english channel swim, George Brunstad
Gareth Fuller/PA/AP
George Brunstad, 70, swimming across the channel, Aug. 28, 2004.

Pastor Swims English Channel for Charity

September 21, 2009 06:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
An Illinois pastor swam across the English Channel to raise money for building a school in Angola.

Swimming for Charity

The Rev. Mike Solberg of Rockford, Ill., made the 21-mile swim across the English Channel Saturday in 13 hours and 31 minutes, part of his goal to raise $50,000 for a school in Waku Kungo, Angola.

“There were definitely times especially between hours 6-9 when I doubted I would finish, but overall, it was a great experience,” he wrote on his blog.

Solberg is one of 61 people to have swum the channel this year, many of whom do it to raise money for charity or other causes. Rhode Islander Ray Gandy raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society during his August swim, while 26-year-old Englishwoman Victoria Moore raised money for the Stroke Association.

Perhaps the most famous example of swimming for charity occurred in 2006, when English comedian David Walliams swam the channel to raise £500,000 for Sport Relief, a charity for the poor.

Background: Swimming the English Channel

The English Channel is considered the Everest of swimming. It takes months of intense training, and even then the majority of swimmers fail to make it across.

In the past 134 years, 1,067 swimmers have completed a total of 1,484 solo swims across the channel, according to There have been 2,260 total successful swims, a number that includes relay swims, multiple-way swims and other special category swims. There have also been six deaths, the last occurring in 2001.

The first man to attempt to swim across the English Channel was J.B. Johnson in 1872. Johnson abandoned the swim just over an hour after starting it, but his attempt inspired British Naval Capt. Matthew Webb to try it himself.

On Aug. 24, 1875, after two years of training and one failed attempt, Webb covered himself in porpoise oil and left from Dover. After 21 hours and 45 minutes, Webb reached the beach in Calais, becoming the first man to swim the channel.

The difficulty in making the swim is due to the tides and the temperature of the water. The tides pushes swimmers back and forth in an “S pattern,” forcing them to swim about 30 miles to complete the 21-mile swim, according to Solberg’s site.

The cold temperature, which tends to measure between 55 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit, requires swimmers to keep moving quickly to stay warm. “If you get tired, you slow down. If you slow down, you get cold. If you get cold, you get out,” says Solberg.

Alison Streeter, the “Queen of the Channel,” has completed the swim 43 times, the most by any person. She told the BBC, “It's not about the distance, lots of people can swim the equivalent in a pool. It comes down to the cold. Fit swimmers are often all muscle and don't have much fat on them, this means they get cold quicker and once the cold gets into your muscles it is very hard to continue.”

Swimmers must also contend with passing ships, as there are roughly 600 commercial ships and 200 ferries crossing every day. Most swimmers are led by pilot boats to guide them through the tides, protect them from ships and provide medical assistance if necessary.

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