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Friday, July 24, 2015

Attacking Life For All It's Worth

Courtesy of Ben Hooper who will attempt to complete the 1,731-mile (2,786 km) Swim the Big Blue across the Atlantic Ocean from Dakar Harbour in Senegal to Natal in northeast Brazil.

The youngster, then aged five, was dragged out and resuscitated on the side of the pool by lifeguards while stunned teachers looked on.

Despite having turned blue and not breathing for minutes, Ben Hooper went on to make a miraculous full recovery.

But in a remarkable and inspirational twist, the terrifying incident – which until now has been “confined to the darkest recesses of my mind for over 30 years” - encouraged Ben to take the plunge as a professional open water swimmer.

He said November’s epic journey between Africa to Brazil – described by explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes as one of the last-remaining extreme feats of endurance – is his chance to “lay the demons of my childhood to rest once and for all”.

Speaking for the first time about the accident Ben, from Gloucestershire, said, “I know drowning would make most people more afraid of water but for me it simply inspired me to become a better swimmer. Although it was a scary experience at the time, I’m grateful for it as it focused my mind as to what I really wanted to achieve in life. My motto is dream, live and achieve – nothing is impossible, no matter what hurdles are in your way.”

The harrowing experience took place while living in Belgium in 1984 after a swimming lesson at his school. Ben set out from the shallow end, but his strength waned as he reached the middle of the pool.

The youngster was unable to touch the bottom and was left desperately treading water until his “legs simply stopped kicking”. It was so busy that no one heard Ben’s calls or saw him disappear under the surface. The alarm was raised when the lifeguard spotted his bright-red swimming shorts on the bottom of the pool.

It’s one of my earliest memories, but one that’s been confined to the darkest recesses of my mind for many years,” he said. “I always loved swimming and was quite good at it from an early age. Yet this once, I got into trouble and began sinking and sinking, unable to claw my way back to the surface. My legs just stopped kicking. I remember just lying on the bottom of the pool, watching everybody else’s legs above me. It was one of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever experienced. Then it all went black.”

Incredibly, Ben said the near-fatal event gave him a “swimmer’s instinct” and actually spurred him on to become a stronger swimmer.

As he grew older, Ben – who joined both the army and later the police – became an accomplished long-distance ocean swimmer and amateur scuba and free diver. His record-breaking challenge, called ‘Swim the Big Blue’, begins in November 2015 when he will set off from Dakar in Senegal, Africa, bound for Natal, Brazil.

The father-of-one hopes to cover every single mile of the 2,000-mile stretch of water in just four months by swimming up to 12 hours a day in two six-hour blocks. Ben will burn up to 12,000 calories per day whilst battling up to seven-knot currents, 30 foot high waves, and 50-strong shivers of man-eating sharks.

He will sleep on board a support vessel and will be accompanied by a 15-strong crew of medics, maritime experts, marine scientists, and TV documentary makers.

Officials from the Guinness Book of Records, in addition to independent verifiers, will also monitor his progress. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is patron of Hooper’s “Swim the Big Blue” expedition, said, “Make no mistake that this swim is, in my view, one of the last great bastions of exploration to remain unconquered. It’s my sincere hope that businesses large and small dig deep to safeguard the future of this remarkable challenge.”

Ben, whose journey can be followed at www.swimthebigblue.com, added: “We all deal with events in our own, unique way. My personal preference is to attack life for all it’s worth – we only live once, after all.”

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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