‘I do not want to see water for a long time’

Six down and one to go: Ireland’s Steve Redmond has just completed the sixth of seven monumental swims that will make him the most successful endurance swimmer of all time.

Two weeks ago, the 46-year-old, open water swimmer from Ballydehob in West Cork swam the Cook Strait, the stretch of ocean between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. It took him 13 hours and 10 minutes.

On Sunday, after a failed attempt last October, he finally conquered the Molokai Channel between Oahu and Molokai Islands in Hawaii. He completed the gruelling challenge in just over 22 hours in what was an emotionally draining and physically painful experience.

“It was pretty horrendous,” Redmond said yesterday, as he contemplated the mammoth task. “I swam through the night and a storm came in. You get motion sickness when that happens and your stomach locks up. It was a truly horrifying swim but better than failing.”

The last five miles were particularly bad. “I got to the edge and then had to go further. I kept on and kept praying to everybody,” he told John Murray on RTÉ radio.

As with all his endurance swims, he was trailed by a boat carrying a support crew and paramedic. “The guy on the boat keeps you alive. He feeds you and gives you painkillers when you need them, but you are not allowed touch the boat.”

Even though he felt like giving up on occasion, the boat’s skipper kept Redmond going. “Most skippers won’t let you out of the water. He told me I had to keep going and I did. He said I could drown, but I couldn’t get in the boat,” he joked.

As well as that, he had to contend with the dangers posed by whales and sharks. “Some hump-back whales drifted around 20ft below me. Then the sharks began to tail them. The whales were singing all night and I couldn’t tell if they were next to me or a few miles away.”

But, says Redmond, whales and sharks are the least of an endurance swimmer’s problems: “It’s the sea will kill you, not the sharks.”

Redmond is hoping to become the first person to complete the Ocean’s Seven challenge, which involves swimming the Irish Channel, the Cook Strait, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel near Los Angeles, the Tsugaru Channel in Japan, and the Strait of Gibraltar.

With six of the Oceans Seven swims under his belt, Redmond, a former rugby player and triathlete, has made a name for himself among the elite of endurance swimmers. Last year, he was nominated for the 2011 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year. If he makes his seventh swim this year, he is likely to win the 2012 competition.

He hopes his swims, which are self-funded, will raise awareness of the sport as well as help with fundraising for an autism centre in West Cork. A native of Castledermot in Co Kildare, he lives in Ballydehob. There was hardly a soul in either village slept on Sunday night until they heard he had made it.

His list of achievements are enough to make a dolphin dive for cover. Redmond has completed the English Channel, the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and Southern California, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and is one of the few swimmers to cross the North Irish Channel between Scotland and Ireland.

With the Molokai Channel under his belt, he must face the Tsugaru Channel in Japan.

Redmond is also the first person to swim around the treacherous Fastnet Rock, giving a whole new meaning to the sailors’ phrase ‘rounding the Fastnet’.

Yesterday, he was less than enthusiastic about his final swim: “I do not want to see any water for a long time. Tsugaru Channel in Japan between the south island and north island in Japan is a dangerous stretch of water. There are a lot of squid and a lot of sharks as well.”

So why does he do it? Apart from raising funds for the autism centre, his prime motivation is practical patriotism. “I got fed up when I hear people putting Ireland down. That is really why I do it.”

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