Man becomes first amputee to swim North Channel


Jonty Warneken

A British man has become the first amputee to swim the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland solo.

Jonty Warneken, who lost his left leg after a car crash in 1994, completed the feat in 15 hours and 24 minutes.

The distance is 21.4 miles (34.5km) as the crow flies, but with currents pushing him off course, Mr Warneken ended up travelling 33.5 miles (54km).

The North Channel is considered the toughest of the “Oceans Seven” swim challenges around the world.

It is slightly longer than the English Channel, the water tends to be colder, and there are strong currents and Lions Mane jellyfish to contend with.

Mr Warneken, from North Yorkshire, was stung several times, including inside his mouth and around his neck. But he told the BBC that along with the cold water, that actually helped take his mind off the pain in his shoulders, although he says as an amputee he is used to coping with pain.

So, how hard is it swimming the North Channel with only one leg?

“It is considerably more difficult,” he says. “Partly because you are unbalanced as you swim.

“I’m asymmetric, so other parts of me have to compensate when I roll and get bashed about by the waves. That puts extra strain on my back, shoulders and arms.”

Nor does he get much propulsion from kicking. His right ankle is pinned, so can’t really be used. “My legs are more of a burden than an aid to be honest,” he adds.

Padraig Mallon of the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association confirmed that Mr Warneken was the first amputee to successfully swim the North Channel solo, and only the 135th swimmer to complete the feat since it was first done in 1947.

Mr Mallon said they were “extremely proud of Jonty’s achievement, and honoured to enter his swim into the history books. We hope that Jonty will inspire more people to follow in his footsteps.”

Mr Warneken took up ice swimming and distance events after his dreams of playing professional rugby were ended by his car accident at the age of 22.

Last year, he was among the first group of amputees, called Team Bits Missing, to complete a relay swim across the North Channel.

As he neared the finish of his solo swim on Friday night, he thought he would get super emotional.

“But I didn’t. I was just pretty beat up and tired,” he says.

“I was actually concerned because I finished in the dark against the cliffs and the sea was bashing around on the rocks, so I was more focused on self-preservation than thinking about what I had achieved.”

Now though he has had a chance to reflect.

“Nothing great comes from things being easy,” he says. “The pain, the suffering, the loneliness of long training days and nights, the danger, the recovery, it is all worth it to achieve what are monumentally tough challenges.”

The 51 year old, who was raising money for Open Country, a charity which helps people with disabilities access and enjoy the countryside, says his next challenge is to “lose the two and a half stone I put on to cope with the coldness of the North Channel”.

Image caption,

Mr Warneken is the first amputee to successfully swim the North Channel solo

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