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Monday, September 27, 2010

Swimming From Italy To Tunisia

Lt. Colonel Nejib Belhedi of Tunisia, the visionary behind the Dialog Across the Seas, is a man who is building a bright future for the next generation of marathon swimmers and channel swimmers of the Maghreb countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and the Western Sahara.

Besides being the first person to swim 20K from Kerkennah to Sfax in Tunisia (7:24 in 1991) and 22K in El Bibane Lake in Tunisia, both in 1991, Nejib also became the first person to swim 16K from Hammam lif to Sidi Bou (5:21), all done in 1991.

He also was pioneered the 20K swim across the La Galite Channel in 1999 (7:15) and the 45K swim from Cap Bon to la Marsa in 1992 (11:17) and the Kerkennah to Sfax in 1991 (7:25), all three also in Tunisia certified by the Army and the Tunisian Swimming Federation.

But his most memorable swims included his English Channel swim of 16:35 in 1993, recognized by the Channel Swimming Association with the establishment of the Belhedi Trophy.

His other memorable swim was an audacious 72K attempt between the Italian island of Patelleria and Kelibia of Tunisia. In 1995, Nejib attempted the much harder direction of Pantelleria to Kelibia where he faced the notorious lateral and oncoming currents of 2–3 knots.

Additionally, as Nejib recalls, "The water is very dark with very deep canyons of more than 800 meters for more than 32K surrounding Pantelleria Island which is a nursery for sharks. By after 17 hours, my swim was stopped by jellyfish that were more powerful than a swimmer."

Despite being unmercifully stung while in the middle of the Sicilian Channel, swimming in the pitch darkness of night, Nejib continued on despite the warnings from his support crew that the entire channel was filled with jellyfish. "The doctor came to me and shined a light place around me. He informed me that jellyfish densely covered the entire area. I told him it may only be a temporary dam and that I could break through. I tried over again and again to pass through this dam, but then I realized the entire Sicilian Channel was covered by jellyfish."

"But I did not get out until I received the order of my Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces His Excellency the President of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. I was, at that time, a major in Tunisian Army and since I was on a mission, I preferred to die rather than to stop my mission without consulting my high military command authority. After 20 minutes, I received the order came to immediately leave the sea. I spent four days in intensive medical treatment in a military hospital. I have a feeling that because I was stopped by jellyfish, it was preferable over being eaten by sharks. For this, I have to thank the jellyfish."

Strong currents, sharks, jellyfish…sounds like quite a challenge for the next generation of marathon swimmers.

Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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