Sunday, August 8, 2010
Updated: July 15, 5:24 PM ET
Charlie Wittmack crosses Channel
By Wayne Drehs
DOVER, England -- For five years, Charlie Wittmack dreamt of what it would be like to cross the English Channel and scrape his knuckles while swimming into the north shore of France.
On Sunday that dream came true, as Wittmack crossed the choppy Channel waters in twelve hours exactly, becoming the first American to complete the Peak and Pond, the name given to the task of climbing Mt. Everest and completing the Channel swim.
The triumph came two years after Wittmack's failed crossing attempt in which he had to be rescued from the water after contracting hypothermia. He climbed Mt. Everest in 2003.
After finally reaching France as the sun set Sunday evening, Wittmack didn't jump up and down or pump his fists in some wild celebration. Instead, crawled on his belly, said a quick prayer and then immediately began surveying the spot where he would hop on a bicycle next week and continue his 12-country, 11,000-mile World Triathlon.
The adventure started last month at the head of the River Thames and is scheduled to culminate next spring at the summit of Everest.
"I saw a flat beach," Wittmack said of his French arrival. "I saw people and I knew they had to get there somehow. And then I saw a path to the top of the hill. And I was like 'We're good.' This couldn't have worked out any better. Perfect place to start the bike ride."
Unlike his failed attempt in 2008, the 5-foot-7 inch, 145-pound Wittmack wore a wetsuit this time to help him survive the Channel's frigid 60-degree temperatures.
But the day didn't come without pain. Wittmack turned some 25,000 strokes in 12 hours, stopping for a few seconds every hour to chug some Red Bull or eat a banana.
"Physically it's hard, but the mental challenge is so far beyond that," Wittmack said. "You go through every type of discomfort you can imagine. Your body is in constant pain. You're hungry. You're tired. Everything hurts. You know it isn't going to stop for a long, long time. And you don't know how long."
In part because of wearing a wetsuit, Wittmack downplayed the Peak and Pond accomplishment after its completion. Each of the previous three people to complete the task had done so without the assistance of a wetsuit. Instead, Wittmack focused on the next leg of the World Triathlon, a 9,000-mile bike ride from the shores of France to Calcutta, India. From sea level there, he will then run nearly 1,000 miles to the top of Everest.
"The Peak and Pond? I don't even know if it is that," Wittmack said during the return trip to England. "To me, this is bigger than that. It's a whole new way of looking at endurance sports in our world. This World Triathlon, this is the new marathon, the new Ironman. This is what people are going to strive to do. We're setting the groundwork for history."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about Charlie Wittmack's World Triathlon at www.theworldtri.com.