Tag Archives: Leroy Columbo

British swimmer adds record to Deaf swimming history

A man who completed the swim across the English Channel became the first person who is Deaf to accomplish the feat.

Deaflympics Tapei 2009 sign
Deaflympics are held every four years in host countries worldwide. photo credit: IMG_0029_34 “POWER IN ME !” HDR via photopin (license)

Andrew Rees completed the 21-mile swim from England to France to raise $6,000 via crowdfunding on Just Giving for Great Britain’s UK Deaf Sport’s travel to the next Deaflympics, which will be held in Samsun, Turkey on July 18, 2017.

Giant white cliffs over the English Channel.
Swimmer Andrew Rees began his historic swim across the English Channel in England and swam to France. The waters are cold and the conditions were rough. photo credit: The White Cliffs of Dover (NT) 19-04-2012 via photopin (license)

Rees represented Great Britain and won gold and bronze medals at swimming and water polo in the 1985 and 1989 Deaflympics.

According to his Just Giving page, “The English Channel is the Everest of swimming; in fact more people have successfully climbed Everest than swim the channel.”

Snow atop the peak of Mount Everest.
Fewer people have completed the English Channel swim than have climbed the 29,000 foot Mount
Everest photo credit: Mount Everest from base camp one via photopin (license)

While Rees has met his goal to support the swim team, the campaign is still accepting donations here.

According to the Channel Swimming Association, Rees, who is profoundly Deaf, swam against a strong tide and completed the swim in 15 hours and 14 minutes.

Of the 11 boats accompanying swimmers attempting to cross the channel that day, only two swimmers completed the swim, according to Rees’ Facebook page.

Woman wearing wetsuit assists child in ocean kayak in front of English Channel white cliffs.
Wet suits offer protection from cold Atlantic waters, but channel swimmers aren’t permitted to use them, though they may use grease as a cold barrier. photo credit: Cap’n Nancy via photopin (license)

According to strict standards for swimming the channel, Rees couldn’t wear a wet suit to protect him from cold waters, and he was stung by a jellyfish. The water was rough, causing him to swim three more hours than he expected. When he completed the swim, he could barely walk, according to a Brighton & Hove News article.

“For the last eight hours it was mad. There was a 23-knot wind. I was bobbing up and down. It took me a long time to get there,” Rees said, according to the article.

Galveston's Pleasure Pier has a Ferris Wheel and rides on a pier over the Gulf of Mexico waters.
Galvestonian Leroy Columbo set swimming records, saved lives, and helped start the sport of surfing in Texas. photo credit: Moonrise Over the Pleasure Pier via photopin (license)

Rees is one of many great swimmers who are Deaf, including Galveston, Texas’ swimmer and Guinness World Record holder Leroy Columbo (December 23, 1905—July 12, 1974), who swam 15 miles in the Gulf of Mexico in 11 hours, and saved more than 907 lives as a life guard, according to this blog.

Sign of Tarzan and King Kong with father and son walking in front of it.
Texan Leroy Columbo, a famous swimmer who was Deaf, beat Olympian and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller racing down the Mississippi. photo credit: Be care via photopin (license)

Unfortunately, Galveston was unable to raise funds for Columbo to compete in the Olympics, though Columbo beat Olympic medalist Johnny Weissmuller in a 10-mile swim race down the Mississippi River—though Columbo had a dislocated shoulder and finished the last two miles of the race one handed, according to articles in this blog
and in the East Texas Historical Journal.

Rees is giving his teammates the Olympic opportunity swimmers who were Deaf had little hope of receiving in generations past.

“The money he has raised will help our Deaflympic swimmers immensely, and his swim will also serve as an inspiration to them all,” said Great Britain’s Deaf Swimming’s chair, Brian Baxter, according to a a BBC Sport article.

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