If you want to raise awareness for a cause you care about, then it’s not a bad idea to do something a little unusual. Ross Edgley’s something was to swim 40km in the ocean while towing a log. A big log. A 45kg log in fact. Luckily it was a floater, but still…
Ross has two causes he really cares about. The first is the environment and global conservation. The idea for dragging the log came about when he took part in a triathlon on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Nevis is a contender to be the world’s first carbon neutral country, and the log became a symbol of the importance of protecting nature in order to manage carbon dioxide levels. The second cause is inspiring people to live fitter and healthier lifestyles by undertaking gruelling physical challenges.
Following his Nevis “tree-athlon”, Ross teamed up with Red Bull for his next challenge – Strongman Swimming, which has been made into a short film by Red Bull Media House. The goal was to swim between the islands of Martinique and St. Lucia, a distance of around 40km, while towing the log.
This channel crossing would be a challenge for any swimmer, let alone one towing a log, and Ross doesn’t have a long distance swimming pedigree. His build is closer to that of a body builder or 50m sprinter than a marathon swimmer. He was, he says, advised to shed something like 10 to 12kg of muscle mass in order to adapt. It was advice he didn’t follow in the end as he felt strength and muscle bulk would help him with the challenge, but he had to work hard to improve his endurance and range of mobility.
“I swam at school,” he says, “but I was definitely a sprinter. I then took up water polo for a while, so the furthest I’d ever swim was about 15m, and my technique was horrible.”
Luckily help was at hand from Beijing marathon swim silver medallist Keri-anne Payne and her husband David Carry.
“Keri-anne helped massively with my swimming technique, showing me how to be more efficient in the water. Even so, I had to make a massive mental adjustment to slow everything down. At first I felt like I was hardly moving.”
Ross made two attempts at the swim. The first started from St Lucia. He spent 19 hours 35 minutes in the water and covered a distance of 61km in waves of more than 1.5m. He got within 5km of Martinique but was unable to swim fast enough or long enough to overcome the tide.
A few days later he decided to try swimming the other way. This time he swam for 11 Hours 49 and covered a distance of 41km. While the conditions were moderately calmer, with waves at around 1.2m, he was still unable to make landfall.
“When I got back to the UK, I did feel a sense of failure for not completing the swim. On the other hand, my brief was to push my body to its limits, and I did that. If I’d have completed the swim, I’d be asking: how much further could I have gone? I’ve also been overwhelmed by the messages of support and congratulations,” says Ross.
Apart from the log, Ross swam according to generally accepted marathon swimming rules in a regulation costume, goggles and a thick layer of zinc oxide to protect him from the sun. And while he picked up a few jellyfish stings and swam to exhaustion, he also saw whales and dolphins, which he described as an amazing experience.
“Also,” he says, “the stars were unbelievable.”
Does he have any advice for aspiring open water swimmers?
“I would love it if more people came in to open water swimming. Over the years I’ve tried many sports but I always missed swimming and it’s been great to come back to it. It doesn’t seem to matter what age, shape or gender you are, or how fast or slow. I’ve never experienced a sport where everyone else doing it is so positive, supportive and encouraging. You just need to get started.”
To watch the full series of Strongman Swimming go to: redbull.co.uk/strongmanswimming