“It’s just a dream come true. My family, the team, everybody who was behind me, they just never gave up,” the exhausted but elated father of two said from Japan.
Steve, 46, from Ballydehob, Co Cork, has spent three years pursuing his dream to complete swimming’s equivalent of the Seven Summits in mountaineering.
He was recovering in a Tokyo hotel yesterday after spending over 14 hours in frigid waters swimming the 27km Tsugaru Channel — the final leg of the challenge.
“My shoulders and ears are gone and I haven’t eaten much but I’m just delighted to have completed it,” he said.
It was his fourth attempt to swim the treacherous strait after severe weather and strong currents forced him to abandon three previous bids in recent days.
Steve said he and his team were resigned to leaving Japan on Friday — and were making plans to return later in the year — when they decided to check conditions one last time.
The skipper of his support boat had a contact in the local coast guard who suggested that currents and conditions might be right for one final attempt on Saturday.
Steve and his team, who were racing against the clock to beat several well-funded elite swimmers to be first to finish the Oceans Seven, decided to give it one last shot.
He set off at 4am, local time, on Saturday, putting in 60 strokes a minute through strong currents, large blooms of squid, and bitterly cold patches of water stirred up by large oil tankers, to finally cross the channel 14 hours and 24 minutes later.
“The water had a mind of its own,” Steve said.
“At times, swimming against the current was like walking on an airport moving walkway.
“You don’t ever think you can do it until the last 20 minutes, or even the last 10 minutes.
“But all we needed was the chance and the right conditions.
“I just closed my mind down. I prayed and did a lot of visualisation during the swim and thought of my wife and kids’ names a lot during the strokes.
“But we have spent three years looking for that beach. And on Saturday night, we finally found it.
“The release was immense. It’s the team that gets you there. They never gave up.”
Steve became emotional as he paid tribute to his children, Sadbh, 11 and Steve, 8, and his wife, Ann, his support team of Noel Brown and Dave Williams, and the immense support from the community in West Cork.
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring, congratulated him on his “heroic achievement”.
“We can’t imagine the effort which Steve put into this challenge. This is a proud day for him and his family,” Mr Ring said.
Steve is expected to receive a huge welcome when he touches down in Cork Airport around 7.30pm tonight.
A film crew from Red Bull are making a 50-minute documentary on his venture.