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Toronto man completes solo swim across English Channel in 15-1/2 hours

Samuel Bail, 30, of Toronto, is seen in the process of swimming the roughly 32-kilometre stretch between England and France along the Channel in a Tuesday, September 5, 2016, file photo.

The Canadian Press

A 30-year-old Toronto man has become the latest Canadian to successfully complete a solo swim across the English Channel.

Samuel Bail finished the roughly 32-kilometre swim on Tuesday, taking 15 hours and 25 minutes to swim the distance between England and France.

According to the Serpentine Swimming Club, Bail becomes the 28th Canadian to complete the open-water swim since 1951.

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Bail said he decided to attempt the swim after triathlons and marathons left him feeling in need of a bigger challenge.

He spent 18 months training for the swim, increasing his endurance and putting on at least 18 pounds of fat to help stave off the frigid temperatures he'd encounter in the water.

Bail said completing the channel swim felt more rewarding than any of his past athletic accomplishments.

"I was happier and more emotional than I thought I would be," he said in a telephone interview from his home in London, U.K.

"I've done lots of other long, physical things...and I don't get emotional at the end of it ever, and I certainly didn't expect to for this time either. But it was a harder day than I thought, and for a lot of the swim I was sure I would not finish."

Bail said the conditions for his swim were ideal in many ways.

His training efforts had once involved hacking a hole in the ice of a lake in southern Ontario and jumping in for a dip, so the channel's water temperature of 16 to 18 degrees Celsius was near the top end of what he had come to expect.

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Winds were minimal and the water was relatively calm, but Bail said he felt "absolutely miserable" for the first 11 hours of the swim.

He had to contend with some soreness and nausea that made the crossing difficult, as well as the recently reinforced knowledge that the crossing can be a deadly dangerous undertaking.

Just a week earlier, experienced British swimmer Nick Thomas, 45, died while attempting to cross the channel on Aug. 28.

Bail said the knowledge that the swim could kill someone in the prime of life and health was a sobering fact that he was unable to ignore during his own journey.

"On an emotional level you get thrown a little bit by the fact that it's pretty recent. And having this guy be in particularly good shape makes it strange," he said, adding that he took comfort in the fact that there have been just three deaths in the past five years.

Bail said the presence of his fiancee and cousin buoyed his spirits as he made the crossing. Both travelled alongside him by boat to offer food and moral support, he said, adding his fiancee even jumped into the water to join him four times throughout the day.

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The misery he felt for the bulk of his swim gave way to optimism with about four hours to go, he said, adding his spirits didn't flag even upon realizing that he had missed his preferred destination and now had further to go.

The route he chose began near Dover, U.K., and was supposed to end at a French land mass known as Cap Gris Nez, but Bail said he was "way off" and had to find land further along the coast.

Bail returned home to London shortly after completing the swim and plans to celebrate his accomplishment over the weekend "by meeting some friends in Hyde Park and plunging back into the water."

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