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A GRANDAD may have conquered one of Europe’s great physical challenges, but it was a simple fall which ultimately broke him.
Bryan Avery, 45, of Gipsy Lane, swam the English Channel in less than 15 hours on Sunday, raising £3,500 for the male cancer charity Balls to Cancer.
However, after hauling his exhausted body onto the rocky bay at Cap Gris Nez, free of jellyfish stings or assault by oil tankers, Bryan fell while clambering for memento rocks to take back to the UK.
As a result he broke the little finger of his right hand, which had only just succeeded in guiding him through 36 miles of treacherous waters.
The IT consultant had been holed up in a campervan on a campsite in Dover for two weeks, waiting for the pilot of his guide boat to give him the green light on ideal conditions for the attempt.
Eventually, at 9.45am on Sunday morning, Bryan was waved off by a group of 10 family and friends at Shakespeare Beach, as he swam into the distance with a small boat and team of three support crew.
On his emotions at the start line, he said: “It was relief more than fear. I was pleased to finally be going out, but apprehensive over what I was about to do. I was trying to break it down into four hour swims, broken by feeds.”
The bulk of Bryan’s supplies consisted of isotonic gels, though he interspersed these with mouthwash, rice pudding and custard.
“It’s a comfort food. When I got beyond eight hours, I needed the warmth, flavour and consistency to perk me up,” he said. “It was absolutely lovely and it had a big effect on stroke.”
As a safety precaution, Bryan agreed a scoring system with his support crew, marking himself out of 10 at various stages, in order to keep track of the danger of Bryan’s body failing him in the sea.
He said: “I was eight, nine and 10 the whole way. I physically felt very good the whole way across. But three or four hours in my head started playing with me. It can become quite tricky, because your brain is telling you ‘the harder you push you are essentially killing yourself’.
“As a result, my swim stroke slowed, I wasn’t feeling great, my muscles were cramping and I needed my swim partner to come in for an hour and help break up the cycle.”
With temperatures between 15 and 17 degrees throughout the swim, Bryan said the cold was never a factor, though the huge oil tankers he came within half-a-mile of provided some anxiety.
It was dark by the time Bryan approached his finish line, south of Calais, and when he ultimately clambered onto the rocky bank, he found time for quiet reflection amid the faint cheers of his small crew still in their boat.
“I felt very alone as I turned around, being the only person there at the time. The sense of achievement was overpowering,” he said.
“My lifelong dream had come true, and to have that moment to myself was perfect. I couldn’t hang around too long though. I was trying to find two rocks to take back with me, as proof I had gotten to France, but as I was feeling around in the dark I fell.
“I cracked my head, hurt my side and broke my finger as I landed on these rocks. I can’t believe I got all that way and suffered my only injury on dry land.”