ELATION was the best way Mandurah local John Reyburn could describe the feeling of swimming onto shore in Wissant, France.
He and four other local swimmers, Deb Bloor, Ray Reynolds, Sue Giles and Ken Phillips, had just completed the English Channel Swim – one of the toughest and most revered swimming challenges in the world.
Reyburn did not even how to swim when he set out on his mission 16 months ago to find other local swimmers who were up for the challenge.
After training at Drakesbrook Weir with local swimming legend Barbara Pellick for more than a year, the team of five set out to England.
Starting at 1.30am on July 5, the team swam more than 35km from Dover in England to the shores of France in 14 hours and 44minutes.
Each team member swam three times, rotating their swimming duties every hour while others rested on the hired support boat.
Reyburn was the final swimmer and the first to reach the shores of Wissant. French immigration laws meant the team were only allowed 15minutes on its shore, enough time to take a quick photo before returning to their support boat.
“Only the birth of a child matched the feeling of finishing,” he said.
“Physically we all felt good, the adrenaline and excitement was oozing out of all our bodies.”
Despite the months of preparation, Reyburn said the enormity of what they were doing had only really hit the team once they were underway.
That was after waiting five days for weather conditions to settle, with only a week timeframe to complete the challenge under the legal guidelines.
The water temperature was only 13.5 degrees, 1.5 under the conditions they had trained for.
Conditions for support to complete the challenge also dictated the men were only allowed to wear budgie smugglers as no wetsuits were allowed.
On top of that, Dover is busiest shipping lane in the world which meant the swimmers were never too far away from enormous transport vessels.
“There were 200ft ships which were never too far away, it’s a huge presence,” Reyburn said.
And although crossing such a massive body of water, the swimmers said they never once felt intimidated by the possibility of visiting creatures of the sea.
Reyburn said the Channel was full of plankton which he said was like “looking down into a glow worm grotto”.
There are also few, if any, recorded cases of shark attacks within the Channel, however Reyburn did get one unexpected surprise in the final moments of the swim.
In France, roughly 1km away from shore, a sudden bite on his foot sent Reyburn into a short panic.
To his surprise it was pod of seals which were playing with him and the support boat off the coast and even followed them back to Dover once they had completed the challenge.
Once back in England the team took a well-deserved holiday and although he admits he has not swum since finishing, Reyburn said the next challenge was not too far from his mind.
Already he is planning to complete the historic Kokoda Trail with his son, James, in September next year.
“If you put your mind to it you can do anything, 18 months ago I couldn’t swim.”