My channel experience

Mate Szekely successfully swam the English Channel in 2003 in 13 hours 5 minutes. He lives in Hungary.

I remember my long childhood summers at the Lake Balaton. On the south coast the water is shallow and warm all summer. With my brother we spent hours daily in the water. There I developed a strong love for swimming.

I did competitive swimming for three years from the age of 6, but then I forgot about it all. It was later, in high-school that one of my friends inspired me to go for the largest open-water swimming race in Hungary that is 5.2km. We started training hard, and we made it. For a long time I was proudly wearing the race T-shirt. It said “I DID IT! Swimming Balaton 5236m”. It was around that time, that I joined the Sri Chinmoy Centre. On one of my first meetings two guys came to me: “You did it? We are looking for a third member in our team to swim the length of Lake Zurich!” So more trainings came, and the following year we swam Lake Zurich, and then again the year after.

Then, following the philosophy of self-transcendence, the Lake  Zurich-solo swim came, twice. (And my first 13kgs of body-weight gain – the second 13kgs I took up before my first Channel attempt). Zurich is a really beautiful event. There I really got to love it.


   Photo: mate in training

In this way, in just a few years time starting from zero, I found myself on Europe’s longest open water race in the company of a dozen channel swimmers. I started to believe, that it is possible to swim from England to France. So I started training more, and to dream about the English Channel. And then some day I just found myself in Dover.

My first attempt was on 30th July 2002. We started 3:30 am. It was a calm, nice morning, 5,9m tide. Devashishu, and Tyagambar were my wonderful helpers. We started well, and before 6 hours we crossed halfway. It really seemed we would make it. Then strong wind got up, and we got bigger and bigger waves. We slowed down a lot on them, and started losing it. After 13.5 hours they told me that realistically the order of the day is a twenty-hour swim, and that the pilot recommended to give up. I gave up. The main thing is that I lost it mentally, and spiritually. The truth is that I started really fast for myself, and I was not prepared neither phisically, nor mentally for a swim longer than 16 hours. I had set this limit in my mind.

I came home deeply frustrated. All the effort I had in this project – it was really too much to come home with a failure. It took me really a long time to learn to treasure this experience. Out there, facing the Channel, facing Mother Nature you realize how small a creature you are. All your efforts in your life put together is nothing compared to an ‘Ocean Breeze’*. There you learn to consciously, and constantly depend on God’s Grace at every moment.


Photo: Mate with friends in Dover Harbour. left to right:
Mate (Hungary), Zoltan (Slovakia), John (Australia), Jan (Czech Rep.)

The second year I worked even harder. I joined a club in Budapest, and I trained with short-distance swimmers to gain more speed. The distances I have built up only in the last four months. My crawl got really much faster.

We went out for my second attempt on the 3rd Aug. 2003. We started again 3.15 am, nice, clear morning, 6.4meter spring tide. This time the weather stayed good. After 5 hours we crossed halfway. Devashishu kept me in good condition with liquid foods, and jokes he wrote on a double A4 size writing pad. By the end the current got very strong, but since my pilot, and his crew seemed very relaxed, I was 100% sure that this time we would make it. We landed 4:20 pm. The French were still on the beach. They were happy to see me comming from England – gathered around me, clapped, and shook my shaky hands. Click here to see the map of my swim.

It was a smooth crossing, but still very tough. With Karteek’s words – an experience that needs some time “to sink in”. It is a wonderful thing. A real treasure. To quote Sri Chinmoy’s words, that in my personal experiences proved to be 125% true:

The English Channel frightens the human body.
The English Channel challenges the human vital.
The English Channel puzzles the human mind.
The English Channel invites the human heart.
The English Channel treasures the human soul.
- Sri Chinmoy

* the name of my pilot’s boat