Parkite Rob Lea completes his swim of the English Channel, just two months after climbing Mount Everest |

Parkite Rob Lea completes his swim of the English Channel, just two months after climbing Mount Everest

Parkite Rob Lea continued his swim through the night just to reach the sunrise in his conquering of the English Channel.
Photo by Caroline Gleich

The first thing Parkite Rob Lea wanted when he climbed out of the English Channel and onto a boat was a Fat Tire Amber Ale.

After battling waves, cold temperatures, severe mental and physical fatigue and jellyfish for just under 12 hours, the cold, refreshing taste of the beer on his lips was something he’ll never forget.

“When I was done, I just wanted to get out of the water and onto a boat, that was it,” Lea said. “Once I was on the boat though, all I wanted was a Fat Tire and wow, it was delicious, one of the best beers I’ve had my entire life.”

For Lea, the decision to swim the English Channel (England to France) was made three and a half years ago when recovering for ankle surgery. He decided then that he would, in a span of a year, climb Mount Everest, swim the English Channel and bike across America. After conquering Everest earlier this year with his fiancé Caroline Gleich, Lea completed his swim across the Channel last Thursday morning, covering 28 miles in 11:47, 13 minutes below his goal time of 12 hours.

“I like to think I’ve been training for this my whole life. … But when I had to book the boat three years ago, it became real and I started a little more open water swimming to adjust,” Lea said. “Obviously last month I did my six-hour swim so I was focused on that and then with just normal training.”

The swim was about as difficult as Lea planned, but it was his roller coaster of emotions that he had the most trouble with.

“I had to constantly weather different storms. … I never really got into a rhythm the entire time because once I did, whether it was for a minute or 30, something would happen.” Lea said. “Sometimes I would feel sharp pain in my shoulder, others I might get a cramp or the water would become extremely choppy, never allowing me to settle in.”

Lea encountered many different obstacles throughout the swim, with the first taking place before he even got into the water. The boat pilot informed Lea that he would start his journey before his scheduled time slot, forcing Lea to round up his boat crew, with aid, in just four hours.

From there, Lea dealt with patches of rough water and jellyfish, the latter of which he estimated stung him least 50 times.

“I knew there was a good chance there would be jellyfish, so in a weird way I was looking forward to get stung because if I did, it would hopefully give me a bit of adrenaline,” Lea said. “I saw over 1,000 jellyfish and out of all the stings, three were memorable. … The two direct ones on my face hurt the most.”

For Lea to complete the journey across, he knew he couldn’t just focus on the big picture of touching sand on the other end. He would have to focus on short, intermediate goals that would help propel him forward.

“I was breaking it down into segments, I found that to be the best way for me,” lea said. “I would break it down into an hour at a time to begin, and then a half hour each time from there. At around midnight, I knew that if I could just see the light (the sun rise), I was going to make it so that kept me going.”

Lea’s breakdown of intervals coincided with him receiving food and water from Gleich — Gleich would give Lea his food and water every hour on the hour for the first three before doing so every 30 minutes after.

This process kept Lea going forward, constantly looking forward to his next break when he could see Gleich and the crew, although he was never allowed to touch or the boat the entire time.

“The people on the boat, I could hear them shouting encouragement and every now and then see them give me the thumbs up sign,” Lea said. “They kept giving me a lot of messages from people and that really kept me going.”

With Everest and the Channel done, Lea is sort of turning his attention to planning his bike ride across America. But first, he has to take on a much bigger task: marrying Gleich in August.

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