Team Qatar Channel Swim successfully made it across the English Channel, the first ever athletes from Qatar to take on the gruesome challenge, known as the Everest of open water swimming.
The team, made up of seven amateur athletes, kicked off their attempt from Folkestone near Dover on the English coast and covered a distance of around 48 kms in 16 hours and 34 minutes on relay basis, to reach the French coast near Wissant, a seaside commune between Calais and Boulogne.
Since 1875, only around 1500 solo swimmers and 765 relay teams successfully made it across the busiest waterway in the world, known for its cold waters, strong tides and a list of other hazards that include cold winds, waves, oil slicks and jellyfish.
What made the Qatari achievement more special is the fact that none of the team members, aged between 34 to 52 years old, are professional athletes. They are a group of endurance sports enthusiasts who work full-time in fields like medicine, engineering and marketing, but they were able to take time from career and family obligations to go through one of the most difficult physical challenges on earth.
The team members include Dr Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali, a surgeon and healthcare official; Dr Mohammed Jaham Al Kuwari, also a surgeon and head of Qatar Cycling and Triathlon Federation; Dr Jamal Rashid Al Khanji, entrepreneur and also a former surgeon; Dr Khalid Mohammed Al Jalham, another surgeon and also a healthcare official; Dr Nasser Saqr Al Mohannadi, petroleum engineer and climate change expert; Fahad Mohammed Al Buenain, marketing and corporate communication expert; and Talal Abdulaziz Al Emadi, a legal expert.
When 52-year-old Dr Faleh Ali founded the team few months ago, he wanted to encourage the Qatari community to make practicing sport an integral part of their lives and to lead healthy lifestyles, by proving that age is never a limit and that a balance between family, career and exercising is possible.
It’s a great honour to be part of a team that made history today. Only few swimmers in the world choose to go through this difficult challenge every year. We worked hard for this over the past few months, and today we reaped the result. All the team members gave their best today and faced very difficult swimming conditions, but when we saw Qatar’s flag being raised at the finish point, we knew it was all worth it.’
Dr Ali said they were dedicating their achievement to HH The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and to the people of Qatar. He also expressed gratitude to their families and to their gold partners – Al Asmakh Real Estate Development and BMI Fitness.
Each member of the relay team had to swim for an hour covering a distance ranging between four to five kilometres in water temperatures that reached as low as 15°C, before returning to the boat for recovery which required eating special meals that helped the body to re-produce heat from within. The order of the relay was pre-determined ahead of the attempt and could not be changed.
The conditions were extremely difficult, according to Dr Al Khanji, when he described their successful attempt.
We had to put an extra effort and push hard in order not to be pulled south by the strong currents. Sometimes we felt that we were not moving forward because of the currents, but at the end we did it, and it is hard to describe the joy of completing this challenge.’
Throughout the journey, the team was accompanied by captain Pete Reed and his boat Rowena, both certified by the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), the organisation responsible for observing and authenticating Cross-Channel Swims. An official from the association was also present during the attempt.
With Qatar facing a blockade from a number of neighboring countries since June of last year, Team Qatar Channel Swim wanted to send an important message to the world. Dr Al Kuwari said they wanted to show the world the real strength of the Qatari people.
When we face pressure, we fight hard to achieve our goals. We chose the English Channel Swim because it is one of the hardest physical challenges in the world, and we succeeded in crossing it despite the extremely difficult conditions that we faced. ‘
Dr Khalid Al Jalham swam the final kilometres of the challenge and reached the finish point near Wissant, where the reception was overwhelming. He said that when the people on the beach saw the Qatari flag, they were really happy and started to celebrate. He said that it was an incredible feeling at the end of a very difficult challenge.
For updates and more information about Team Qatar Channel Swim, visit their official website at swimqa.org. You can also get updates through their social media pages: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.