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Channel Challenge Changes Lives

By Duncan Horscroft on October 22, 2020 in News

Luke powering along before the weather went feral. photo: Nils Young

For those keen on the rigors of ocean swimming, try swimming at Bondi for six hours in cold water. This was one of the many tests that best mates Quinn Darragh and Luke Stewart had to endure to prepare for their biggest challenge of all – the 36-kilometre journey across the English Channel, which they attempted in September.
The boys swam between 30 and 50 kilometres each week, often in freezing cold water, in preparation. Struggling to put on weight, both experienced hypothermia at different times, which was difficult for their families to see. COVID-19, however, presented the biggest challenge.
“It went from being a once in a lifetime trip for the Stewarts, Quigleys and Darraghs, to the realisation we’d be away from our families for six weeks. It changed the way we had to train, with the pools and then the beaches closing. It changed the way we had to fundraise,” Quinn told The Beast.
“Professionally, we had to be right on our game, and family time is non-negotiable. Keeping it all together was pretty wild.”
Luke added, “At times it looked like the swim would not be allowed by the French authorities, then the English authorities, then approval to leave Australia looked highly unlikely. We also had numerous flight cancellations, changing quarantine laws, and lastly we didn’t know if we’d be able to get home or not, so we were having all these experiences for a swim that may or may not happen.”
After receiving an exemption from COVID restrictions to fly to the UK, the pair faced another challenge in the form of unpredictably brutal weather conditions. But when Quinn finally took to the water at 2am under the cover of darkness, he completed the swim in 9:36, the fastest time of more than 40 solo swims this year.
“I broke the swim down into 30-minute blocks, as that’s when you get thrown your drink feeds on an extendable dog leash. It was also something to look forward to. For me, anything long and difficult needs to be broken down into small pieces and that way your mind doesn’t get overwhelmed.”
Quinn also thought a lot about his family and friends.
“After seven hours I hallucinated and saw my wife as a mermaid looking up at me; that kept my mind off the pain for a while,” he said.
“I was so lucky to have Luke on my boat managing my nutrition, mental health and keeping tempo.”
Conditions for Luke’s swim the previous day were horrendous. No amount of swimming or cold exposure can prepare someone for debilitating sea sickness.
“Being on track and then getting pulled out after seven and a half hours, after vomiting for the preceding three hours or so, was shattering,” Luke told The Beast, “but I’ll keep that feeling with me and use it to continue to drive me forward – that’s the beauty of the English Channel!”
Luke was still swollen, greenish and had barely slept for 48 hours when Quinn asked him to be on his boat. “100 per cent, this is about you now,” Luke replied.
Despite his disappointment, Luke was incredibly proud of his mate’s effort.
“Brother Quinn is my best mate and I’m proud to be his friend. Seeing him cross the Channel was one of the greatest days I’ve ever had,” he said.
The inspirational pair raised over $145,000 for the Running for Premature Babies foundation, with the money going toward ventilators for Sydney’s Royal Women’s Hospital and two lifesaving humidicribs for Alice Springs Hospital.
Quinn’s son Ryder was born 27 weeks premature and survived thanks to a ventilator.
“Luke and I shed a tear for the sacrifices made by our families, the overwhelming community support and the generosity shown for such a great cause. It’s extremely humbling and we are indebted,” Quinn said.
The boys’ swim was never about personal achievement. In a year that has been so challenging for most, it has shone a light on the strength of our community, the power of mindset and mateship – together, we can still do great things.
For so many of us, this is what 2020 will be remembered for.