Overcoming adversity to ‘Challenge the Channel’

‘The most dangerous’

Paul Smith describes it as his ‘most dangerous’ challenge.

This is a man who has skydived from over 13,000 feet and reached 35.5 mph in a wheelchair downhill. So what makes this one more risky in comparison?

Simple. “I can’t swim.”

Challenging adversity

Paul is used to overcoming challenges. In 1991 another driver overtook on a blind bend at night and hit him head on. Paul suffered injuries that mean he now spends most of his life in a wheelchair and lives with constant pain, including migraine pressure in his head 24/7.

Shortly after his accident Paul went into Locked-in Syndrome for 12 years. He emerged determined to raise money for charity and has since carried out a series of increasingly gruelling challenges, including pushing himself in a wheelchair from Plymouth to London, another wheelchair push up the Rock of Gibraltar and the aforementioned skydive. All in aid of charity.

In 2017 he decided that was it. Until now.

One last challenge

Those exploits, along with a deliberate hit and run incident in 2014, had taken their toll and it was only the passing of his friend Marjorie Anne Walker from breast cancer in 2017 that made him resolve to take on just one more challenge in her memory. It wasn’t going to be an easy one either. After much thought, Paul decided he will row solo across the English Channel in May 2019.

Paul is a Royal Navy veteran, so you may naively assume that he would know plenty about rowing. Not a bit of it. “Never rowed before in my life,” he says calmly. “Probably splashed about on a lake on a family holiday a couple of times,” (he’s a bit unsure,) “but never rowed like this.”

When it comes to being alone on water there is also that other problem: he can’t swim.

Undeterred by these additional challenges on top of the basic requirement to row 23 miles across one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, Paul commenced training. This is split, fairly evenly, between indoor training on a rowing machine (or ‘ergo’) and ‘onwater’ training. After 21.5 hours of the latter Paul took on his first major test: a row from Eastney beach in Portsmouth to the Needles on the Isle of Wight.

Endurance test

On October 5, after five-and-a-half hours of rowing, which included crossing both Portsmouth and Southampton harbours’ shipping lanes in patchy fog, Paul arrived unscathed at journey’s end. He had covered 30.6 miles, about 7 more than the Channel trip, so was he satisfied with his day’s work?

For a man who has spent several hours dodging submarine defences, ferries and occasionally navigating blind via the aid of a foghorn his answer is typically down-to-earth.

“We needed a swell so I could experience what the Channel is likely to be like and learn to manage taking on fluids and food. A little bit of swell would have helped so I could have adjusted my rowing technique.”

It’s a realistic attitude that has got Paul up gradients of 1 in 4 on the Rock of Gibraltar. Now it’s helping him in his attempt to Challenge the Channel next year (Hopefully 25th May, Marjorie Anne’s passing).

Paul adds, “I am really pleased to be supported by Globaleather, they have been a great support to my challenges in the past.”

Globaleather are supporting Paul in his bid to raise £250,000 for Breast Cancer Haven. If you’d like to learn more about Paul and Challenge the Channel check out the following links: