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Polair officer’s quest to channel hope

Acting Senior Sergeant Dan Butler of POLAIR describes himself as “just your average middle-aged police officer—a shift worker with two young kids, too much grey hair and one too many pies under the belt”.

But what he is attempting is far from average. He is training to swim the English Channel in September 2017, a feat known as the ‘Everest of open water swimming’, to acknowledge an illness that troubles many police officers and highlight the support available.

More than 3,000 have summited Mount Everest since 1953, but by 2007, only 811 people had swum the English Channel since 1875. It’s 32km in a straight line from England to France, but most end up swimming 40-50km in a big ‘s’ shape due to the changing tides. The average time taken is 13.5 hours and the average temperature is 12-16 degrees. Only about 10% of solo attempts succeed.

Acting Senior Sergeant Dan Butler at work, and after an eight hour swim in the 15 degree water of Port Phillip Bay in April.

Why do I want to do this?

Over my 18 years in policing, I’ve seen too many colleagues suffer from work related depression, PTSD and suicide, so I’ve hooked up with Blue Hope to highlight mental illness and help promote the good work they do. When things get rough, police can feel like they are swimming against the tide or even drowning. At times they feel physically ill.

By swimming the treacherous, freezing waters of the channel I want to prove that no matter how tired you are, how sick you feel or how rough it gets, if you surround yourself with a good team and show grit, determination and perseverance you will come out the other side.

Almost a year out, my day usually starts at 3:30am with up to three hours in the pool before getting the kids ready for school and then heading off to work. I do an extra open water swim of up to 15km each fortnight and have now started weekly ice baths to acclimate. If I feel tired when the alarm goes off, I just think about how hard it is for some people to get out of bed and face the world some days.

Hypothermia and jelly fish stings are the biggest causes for failure, but there is no wetsuit or cage allowed for swimmers who wish to be recognised in the history books. This is to replicate the first ever crossing by Captain Matthew Webb who did it in 22 hours with only a pair of speedos and goggles in 1875. He coined the phrase, ‘Nothing great is easy’.

To qualify for the channel attempt I swam for over eight hours in less than 16 degree water in Port Phillip Bay earlier this year and was among only eight out of 40 who finished.

I’ll also compete in a 5km ocean race in Mooloolaba and a 10km ocean race in Sydney later this year to qualify for the Rottnest Channel Swim in Perth. This 20km race will be my longest swim prior to the big one next September.

It’s important to remember that no one swims the English Channel alone. It can’t be done without a very supportive team, in the same way that Blue Hope is.

You can follow me and my journey here.

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