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Walsall swimmers smash Channel record in memory of tragic friend

By Richard Guttridge | Walsall | News | Published:

For most people, swimming the Channel would be considered a huge achievement.

The team after completing the challenge

But an intrepid team of swimmers, who formed in memory of a tragic friend, crossed the 20-mile stretch separating England and France not once, not twice – but an incredible four times without stopping.

The six-person team, led by Paul Bates, originally from Walsall, took on the gruelling task, making it a record by becoming the first in Europe to complete a four-way crossing of the English Channel.

The challenge was completed as a relay, with each member swimming for an hour before a teammate took over.

WATCH: Channel swim challenges explained

The pals were at sea for almost two days, crossing 80 miles. They battled through strong winds and choppy currents to complete the arduous journey in 46 hours and 13 minutes. One member of the team remained in the water at all times.

Big Rick’s Swim Team formed 10 years ago in memory of Walsall swimmer Mark Rickhuss, who tragically died aged 41 of a heart attack in 2005 after helping a friend cross the Channel. The father-of-two previously swam the Channel himself in 1999.

Friend and keen swimmer Paul decided to put together a team to take on charity swims in Mark’s memory.

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They crossed the Channel for the first time in 2011 and had also completed three two-way swims but this time decided to something no team in Europe had managed before.

The team became the first in Europe to complete a four-way crossing of the Channel

Members have come and gone over the last decade, during which time the group has raised an impressive £95,000 for charity, but Paul, 50, managed to convince five friends from Perry Beeches Swimming Club to join him on his mission.

The group made up of Paul, Stuart Fuller, from Rushall, Ross Emery, from Streetly, Ryan Coley, from Halesowen, Charlie Wheadon, from Erdington, and another friend Melanie Holland, from Norwich, trained for six months before finally taking to the water at Dover for the daunting challenge on Tuesday, September 4 in the pitch-black darkness at 3.20am.

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Paul said: “We did a two-way swim two years ago but for this one we doubled everything. We trained five times a week in the pool. As soon as we were able to go outside in April, after all the snow, we went out to a pool in Tamworth.”

WATCH the moment the challenge was completed:

They had set out hoping to smash the world record for a four-way crossing, but came agonisingly short of the 42-hour time posted by a Mexican team.

But once that was out of their minds, they knew just making it home to shore would be an amazing achievement in itself.

Such was the rough nature of the waves they encountered, they set off from Dover but ended up returning near Folkestone. But it mattered little – it was home soil and something only two teams in the world had ever completed.

Paul said: “It was a bit of a challenge getting back to Dover, we missed the tide.

“We were doing about two-and-a-half mph on each swim but the last six miles took almost six hours. We saw Folkestone and it seemed as it as if it wasn’t getting any closer. We tried to get the record but at this point it was all about finishing.”

Reflecting on the achievement, Paul said: “To be the first in the country and Europe to do it, I’m proud of all of the swims but this particular one needed luck.

"There hasn’t been a swim since because the weather has been terrible in the Channel so we were really lucky. The other five never got the chance to meet Mark.

“I wish we weren’t doing these swims, I still wish he was with us but this is the sort of thing he would have loved.”

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Chief Reporter - @RichG_star

Chief Reporter for the Express & Star, based in Wolverhampton.

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