Cancer survivor swims Channel FOUR times

World record: Only four swimmers have swam it three times. No one has ever completed a fourth leg.

Could you have done it? Sarah Thomas swam 134 miles without stopping for 54 hours, fighting strong currents, hurting from salt water in her throat, and stung in the face by jelly fish.

More than 100 miles of icy sea. Suffocating, salty waves. Powerful tides that drag swimmers far off-course.

Crossing the English Channel is a huge challenge for even the most accomplished swimmers. The American 37-year-old Sarah Thomas has just become the first person to do it four times in a row without stopping.

“I just can’t believe we did it,” she gasped after crawling on to a Dover beach. “I’m pretty tired right now.”

Thomas set off from the Kent coast in the dark, early hours of Sunday morning. At around 6am yesterday, after more than 54 hours in the water, she set foot on dry land once more.

“Just when we think we’ve reached the limit of human endurance, someone shatters the records,” said Lewis Pugh, who recently swam the length of the United Kingdom.

Over the two days, Thomas ate only a protein recovery drink and a small amount of caffeine to help keep her awake. On the final return from France, she was stung in the face by a jellyfish.

This year, National Geographic published a list of the world’s most difficult physical challenges.

Mexico’s Marathon de Sables sees competitors run 156 miles on hot sand, carrying their own supplies of water and food.

The Iditarod Trail, “the last great race on Earth”, is an annual dog-sled race across 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness through blizzards and white-outs.

Are these achievements only possible for elite athletes? Or could we all do them if we tried?

Pushed to the brink

The people who can do these amazing things are freaks of nature, most people argue. Dealing with extreme heat and cold, for so long, takes rare physical powers built up from training and genetic inheritance — or probably both. It’s not for everyone.

That is wrong, say others. Jasmin Paris was the first woman to win the 268-mile Spine Race this year, while stopping to pump milk for her baby, beating her nearest male rival by 15 hours, and setting a record by 12 hours. We can all do much more than we think.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to swim across the English Channel?


  1. Design your own endurance challenge, like the ones listed in National Geographic. Draw a map of the course.

Some People Say...

“Endurance is patience concentrated.”

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the Channel in 1875, in under 22 hours. Since then, 1,831 people have done it 2,369 times, including an 11-year-old. The fastest was Australian Trent Grimsey in six hours and 55 minutes, in 2012.
What do we not know?
What is truly the greatest physical challenge. The question is subjective: some people enjoy running; others think it is awful.

Word Watch

English Channel
The stretch of water between the UK and France.
The length
Lewis Pugh swam 330 miles along the south coast from Cornwall to Plymouth in 49 days. The effort burned 98,000 calories.
A blizzard so dense that you cannot see.
Genetic inheritance
Looks, characteristics or natural abilities that you inherit from your parents or grandparents, or relatives before them.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.