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Madden Conquers the Channel

He stood knee height in the waters of the secluded Samphire Hoe Beach on the South East Coast of England. It was 11.40pm, pitch dark, except only for the port and starboard lights of his 30ft support boat called Gallivant piloted by Mike Oram. It was eerie. He wore swimming togs, goggles, a swimming cap and ear plugs. He remained alone in solitary silence. So this was it. This is what he had spent the past 3 years preparing for. Destination France.

This is the story of Fergal Madden (48), a native of Derrydonnell, Athenry, who became the first male Galwegian to swim the English Channel, a challenge which adventurers say is even greater than scaling Mount Everest. It is Friday night, August 2nd 2019 and Fergal has a gruelling challenge ahead of him which will fully test both his physical and mental capacity. A full 16 hours and 46 minutes later Fergal will exit the channel on French soil on a beach know as Cap Blanc Nez. He has achieved greatness and written his name into the annals of sporting greatness.

Fergal Madden grew up in Derrydonnell, Co. Galway. His father Tommy, RIP, was the much renowned cross country runner whose wonderful achievements are well documented. Unusually, Fergal didn’t learn to swim until he was almost 30 years of age and only became interested in Open Water swimming in 2014. In 2015 he was instrumental in setting up the Atlantic Masters Swimming Club which no boasts in excess of 70 active members. While he very soon began participating in long distance swimming, having completed 6 Galway Bay swims to date and 3 Lough Gill swims, it wasn’t until he completed a relay crossing of the English Channel with his close friends Helen Colfer and Annette Cullen in 2018 that he fully committed to taking on the gruelling task of completing a solo crossing. While Fergal had always maintained a very high level of fitness and followed a rigorous training programme, for the past 20 months he hired the assistance of strength and conditioning coach Gerry Cronnelly Jnr, swimming coach David Warby, nutrionist Honor Geraghty and sports dietician Laura Mahony and physio Emer Collins. He also spent time with Ned Dennison at his training camp in Cork. Fergal also put together a very experienced support team consisting of Paddy Mac, known and respected throughout the country for his knowledge of Open Water Swimming, Pascal Phelan who is one of the top Open Water swimmers in the country and Alice Flood who became the first ever Galwegian to complete the crossing in 2017. These three members of his support team would play a vital role in getting Fergal across the channel as they observed his every stroke, totalling 55,500, provided encouragement and had a well earned drink available to Fergal every 30 minutes. The swim itself is deceiving. Very deceiving. It measures 21 miles as the crow flies. However, owing to the huge influence of tides and strong currents it is estimated that the distance can range from 25 miles to 35 miles depending on conditions. Fergal’s swim was a 30 mile endurance. However, Fergal had prepared for all eventualities. His training regime for the past 3 years was immense, training 6 days a week, twice a day sometimes, covering distances ranging from 20km to 45km weekly mostly in the sea. However, no training can prepare one for such a marathon swim. Swimming for almost 6 hours in pitch darkness, being constantly stung by jellyfish, swimming for one full hour and not moving 1m owing to the ferocity of the current, enduring swollen tonsils, lips and tongue as a result of the salidity of the water and extreme fatigue. In truth, it takes a rare breed to complete a channel crossing and Fergal Madden certainly is that. In February of this year Fergal was awarded the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA) Connaught Open Water Swimmer of the Year for 2018, a great achievement in itself. He is also involved withPredator Triathlon Club, Monivea Boxing Club and Derrydonnell/Athenry Gun Club.