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Swim he’ll never forget

Yvette Best

Swim he’ll never forget

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JANUARY 21 TURNED out to be one “awesome day” for a Brit who has made Barbados home.
When most Barbadians were resting or preparing for fun and frolic on Errol Barrow Day, John Howard and some other swimming buddies were hitting the water before sunrise.
In daring to go where he had never gone before, Howard would soon come to the painful reality that years of swimming in cold pools in England and weekly open water swims did not prepare him for his biggest challenge to date.
The president of Summit International Bank, which sponsored the long-distance swim in association with some other businesses, took up open water swimming when he relocated to Barbados and he hits the water every Saturday at Carlisle Bay with his informal grouping they would normally swim two kilometres for exercise.
He learnt of the swim from John Mike Peterkin in October last year, and he and Peter Gibbs decided to join Peterkin for what would turn out to be a challenging exercise. Geoff Farmer, Zary Evelyn and South African “iron man” Adam Cripwell were among those involved in the effort.
“It piqued my interest then, but it was certainly further than I had ever swam before. So that’s where the open water swim training started,” Howard explained.
His motive was not for mere brownie points, but to raise funds for charity. As a past president of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA), Howard played an active role in the establishment of the organisation’s charity in 2010 and he still has an affinity to it.
BIBA’s current focus is to assist in the improvement of health care in Barbados. The 2014 appeal is to raise around $70 000to purchase walking coolers for staff at the Sir Winston Scott Polytechnic to transport vaccines.
The polyclinic and Summit are neighbours, and Howard said he felt “a special importance and relevance” to this particular appeal.
After training for the challenge for several weeks, Gibbs and Peterkin started off near the South Point Lighthouse in Christ Church at 4 a.m. and swam seven kilometres to St Lawrence Gap, where Howard and a few others took the plunge to join them in the water around 6:20 a.m.
It was there Howard began his 25-kilometre swim to Port St Charles in St Peter. His longest distance prior to that was an 18-kilometre swim he completed a few years prior.
“The difference this time is that by the time I got round to where they started that 18 K [Weisers], my shoulders were already sore,” he said with a little laugh.
“The first couple of hours were nice and easy, almost like a picnic. And then we hit a current off the Hilton where the West comes into the South current and that was kind of a wake up call. At that time I still thought it was going to be a 10-hour swim, we’ve been going for two, and I thought ‘we’ve still got eight hours here’,” he continued.
He said getting around the Deep Water Habour was a feat in itself, and that it was fascinating to go around the outside of it.
Hitting Weisers signalled that he had seven more hours in the water before reaching the goal. It was at Holetown, St James where serious fatigue set in, and with 10 kilometres still to go, Howard thought of calling it quits.
“I would’ve loved to have gotten out, but they had all these people waiting at Port St Charles. The reception committee had been waiting there patiently and all these people had donated this money and I was thinking ‘my gosh I’ll have to wait till the morning and send back their cheques’. That really kept me going, because I really didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I didn’t want to let anyone down,” he stated.
Then there was his wife Tracy and their three children Sarah, 11, Charlotte, 9, and two-year-old Michael, who actually came out on a boat with about two kilometres to go, to cheer him on.
“That kinda gave me a big surge of energy. The last couple of K then, I was just telling myself ‘it’s just a normal swim from here’. The 2K swim is the normal one I would have been doing, and I just kept telling myself it’s just across Carlisle Bay and back. And then when we came in, it was a fantastic reception,” he recalled with a tone of satisfaction in his voice.
Swimmers did distances ranging from five to 33 kilometres that day, but Howard and Peterkin would be the only two to get out of the water at Port St Charles. Peterkin would complete the 33 kilometre distance in 14 hours and Howard 25 kilometres in 12 hours. Gibbs culminated his 25 at Holetown and another swimmer finished the distance on a standup paddle board and got to Port St Charles about two hours ahead of them.
The thought that Peterkin was in the water from 4 a.m. and covered a greater distance also pushed him on.
“I thought how can I possibly be getting out, when John Mike has already swam 8K, before I even started this morning [January 21]. So that gave me some inspiration,” he said, adding that the cheers from supporters on the approach to Port St Charles and the horns on the boats made for a “great finish”.
“I was actually kinda surprised I was able to walk out. Mind you, that was my legs which I wasn’t really using, it was my shoulders that were actually killing me,” a now fully recovered Howard joked.
“It was an awesome day. Very tiring, but you know what? We ended up raising over $30 000 in the end. It was just a fabulous response, and the generosity really did overwhelm. It’s gonna be a big contribution,” he noted.
Having said that, Howard said: “I’m quite fine going back to my 2K swim”.
“This was much more painful than I had imagined. One of the things that kept me going through though, is I was thinking ‘I’m gonna keep my tail quiet for a bit’,” he admitted.
He figures the 21K training swim they did ten days before the actual event, accompanied by his brother-in-law on kayak, might have contributed to his discomfort.
In the midst of all the pain, Howard was back at his desk the very next day.
“I was happy. I was still, I think, on a buzz. And I think the adrenaline hadn’t left my body yet,” Howard said.
With the challenge successfully completed, Howard thinks the bank might consider making the charity swim an annual event.
“I don’t know [that] you’re gonna see me in it next year, but I would still like for the bank to be involved in it,” he stated.
Howard suggested that the swim could be a tool for Barbados to promote sports tourism, and that it could turn out to be one of the big swims around the world similar to the ones around Manhattan, the English Channel and Alcatraz.