Back To Basics For Crossing The Channel

Imagine that you have just swum the English Channel.  This is over twenty miles of swimming through grueling waves, the cold, the jellyfish and the solitude, all in the world’s busiest shipping lane.  This is an achievement to be proud of, especially if this isn’t even your first successful crossing; you are repeating a feat you first completed previously almost four years ago to the day.

That was exactly the position Stu Bowman found himself in back in August 2018, and he wasn’t entirely happy about it because this one over two hours slower than his previous attempt. He was sure he could do better.

We’re not sure if Stu has any laurels, but if he does, they are certainly not very comfy.  No resting for him.

So, what was the next logical step he could take?

To Stu, the answer was obvious.

He started taking some swimming lessons!

Thus when Stu first stepped into the studio with SwimMastery co-founder and senior coach Tracey Baumann there was no doubt that he was already a highly accomplished swimmer. He was also someone who recognised that he could still improve, still make things better in his swimming and achieve even greater things.

It would be tempting to assume that Coach Tracey would try to identify tiny tweaks and tricks to incorporate into Stu’s existing stroke to make improvements. Many swimmers come to lessons saying things like “my stroke is fine, I just need to sort out my breathing/catch/leg kick/etc so I can go faster.” These can be the more challenging swimmers for a coach to help because of their resistance to confronting anything other than the area they themselves have identified as requiring improvement.  But Stu surrendered to Coach Tracey’s expertise, becoming willing to benefit fully from her approach. This allowed her to take into account everything that Stu was currently doing and to work on the body as a whole, leading to an amazing breakthrough.

Thus it was that, despite his Channel successes, this first lesson for Stu had him laying face down in a dead man’s float practising the most fundamental of skill, the air exchange process. Tracey had instantly recognised and was able to demonstrate to Stu via video analysis, that one of his problems was a loss of efficiency caused by over-reliance on upper body strength attempting to pull himself through the water arms alone. And, counter-intuitively, the first step to correcting that was to calm the whole system down with a proper breathing technique.

Over the next 18 months, Stu and Tracey completely remodeled his stroke taking it right back to the beginning and rebuilding it from the ground up.  Together they developed in Stu a heightened awareness of the water and its interaction with his body, and have improved his streamline skills which have dramatically reduced the energy wasted by slippage due to over-reliance on arm pulling.

The culmination of all this hard work came in early August 2020 when Stu attempted his third Channel crossing. His progress was simply phenomenal: he landed on the shore of France in 11 hours and 59 minutes and in so doing taking a whopping six hours and 29 minutes off his 2018 time.

It’s an incredible improvement and testament to what can be achieved with an attitude of humility, a willingness to learn and the right coaching.


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