CLISE: Jurzynski to swim channel again


[wpaudio url=”″ text=”An Annual, Intrinsic Migration”]

He’s at it again. Peter Jurzynski this summer will once more attempt to swim across the English Channel. The borough man, who turns 59 June 7, is an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer and already the American record holder for successful channel crossings, 14.

Five other tries, including his most recent, last Aug. 5, were unsuccessful. That attempt was Jurzynski’s first since he underwent coronary bypass surgery in May 2008.

“Last year, when I made the attempt, I hadn’t swam at all in the sea the previous calendar year because I had the surgery,” Jurzysnki said. “I swam in pools, but I hadn’t swam in the sea. Obviously, I had a lot of training last summer and last fall in the sea, [which should help this year.]”

“Last year, when I gave up, I knew I could have done a few more hours, but I knew I couldn’t have done the 17 [hours needed to complete the swim],” he continued. “I think I rushed it, and I don’t think I was fully recovered, muscular-wise and stuff like that.”

Almost as soon as he climbed aboard his guide boat that morning, Jurzynski vowed to make another effort this summer. He continued open-water training upon his return to America, swimming regularly in Long Island Sound until Columbus Day weekend. He’s been logging pool time at Post University since then.

The Waterbury substitute teacher maintains his stroke is more efficient than ever and that he is in such good shape that beating his most recent, pre-bypass time (16 hours, 21 minutes in 2007) is a realistic goal. But now that Jurzysnki, a bulky fellow before his operation, has slimmed down, he is increasingly sensitive to the channel’s cold water.

Peter Jurzynski shakes hands with Bleriot-Plage Mayor Guy Allemand outside the French city’s town hall last summer. Jurzynski dedicated his 2009 swim, which was unusccesful, to Louis Bleriot, who in 1909 became the first person to fly across the English Channel in an airplane.

When Jurzynski terminated his own voyage last summer, just a few hours into the swim, it wasn’t because he was fatigued but rather because he began to experience symptoms of hypothermia.

“Ironically, of all the people that I’ve known, that I’ve associated with, with channel swimming, I never was cold,” he said. “I never had that problem until last year. I had other problems, with the wind and tides and maybe overtraining. But I never had the problem of cold, and now with the less weight, it is an issue. But I’m hopeful and, obviously, I hope to overcome that cold. Of course, we’ll know as the summer progresses.”

Jurzynski will take several measures to improve his endurance in cold water. He plans to begin swimming in open water early next month and to start training in the channel itself June 10, about a week earlier than he did last year. His goal, once he begins training in open water, is to not return to the pool; in the past, he has alternated between open-water and pool swims, but he fears a pool’s warm water would stunt his cold-water acclimation.

The key to open-water exclusivity, Jurzynski says, will be picking the right start date. His younger self would be in the sound right now, swimming a mile at a frigid 51 degrees. But last fall’s paddles through the sound reminded him those days are over.

“When [the water] went to 60, I felt it,” Jurzynski said. “Sixty-one, I was doing lots of swimming. So I know kind of what I can do, what I can’t do.”

He says he’ll wait until the water off Folkestone, his English training ground, is 56 or 57 degrees before he starts. If the temperature doesn’t reach that level soon after his June 10 target, he may instead begin channel swimming on the French side, where the water is typically a few degrees warmer. He also hopes to complete a seven- or eight-hour practice swim—longer than his customary six-hour practice—at some point.

While he performed many of his successful crossings in the month of July, Jurzynski says he will likely wait this year until late August, when the channel’s water is its warmest.

Asked what could possibly continue to motivate him, after a quarter century of channel swimming, Jurzynski’s answer was simple: “Number one, I enjoy it. I enjoy the training. I enjoy the conditioning.

“Actually, once you get going, once you get training, if you get a nice day it’s—I can’t say it’s an easy experience—but it’s more of a pleasant experience. … It’s quite a feeling when you’ve gone to the French shore and you’re cognizant that you’ve just swam about 21 miles. It’s just an awesome feeling.”

Though Jurzysnki acknowledges that during every swim, usually after eight to 10 hours, there are moments when he asks himself, “What the hell am I doing this for?” he consistently conjures that “awesome feeling” and splashes salt water in the eye of doubt.

And if he does wash up on the shore of Calais, France for the 15th time, it may be the last time.

“It’d just be a good thing to make it after the surgery and so forth,” he said. “Whether I continue, I’ll make that decision after this summer. But I would like to make it this summer. I’m gonna be 59 on June 7, so I’ll be into my 60th year, if you will, so it would be nice, if I do decide to stop with the long distance of that nature, this might be a good point to do it.”