Posted on July 23, 2018

Team Qatar Channel Swim successfully made it across the English Channel on Saturday to go into history books as the first ever athletes from Qatar to take on this gruesome challenge, known as the Everest of open water swimming.

The team, made up of seven amateur athletes, kicked off their attempt from Folkestone near Dover on the English coast and covered a distance of around 48 kms in 16 hours and 34 minutes on relay basis, to reach the French coast near Wissant, a seaside commune between Calais and Boulogne. Since 1875, only around 1500 solo swimmers and 765 relay teams successfully made it across the busiest waterway in the world, known for its cold waters, strong tides and a list of other hazards that include cold winds, waves, oil slicks and jellyfish.

What made the Qatari achievement more special, is the fact that none of the team members, aged between 34-52, are professional athletes. They are a group of endurance sports enthusiasts who work full-time in fields like medicine, engineering and marketing, but they were able to take time from career and family obligations to go through one of the most difficult physical challenges on earth.

The team members are: Dr Faleh Mohamed Hussain Ali, Surgeon & Healthcare Official, Dr Mohammed Jaham Al Kuwari, Surgeon & Head of Qatar Cycling & Triathlon Federation, Dr Jamal Rashid Al Khanji, Entrepreneur & former-Surgeon, Dr Khalid Mohammed Al Jalham, Surgeon & Healthcare Official, Dr Nasser Saqr Al Mohannadi, Petroleum Engineer & Climate Change Expert, Fahad Mohammed Al Buenain, Marketing & Corporate Communication Expert, and Talal Abdulaziz Al Emadi, Legal Expert. When 52-year-old Dr Faleh Ali, founded the team few months ago, he wanted to encourage the Qatari community to make practicing sport an integral part of their lives and to lead healthy lifestyles, by proving that age is never a limit and that a balance between family, career and exercising is possible. 

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“It’s a great honour to be a part of a team that made history today. Only few swimmers in the world choose to go through this difficult challenge every year. We worked hard for this over the past few months, and today we reaped the result. All the team members gave their best today and faced very difficult swimming conditions, but when we saw Qatar’s flag being raised at the finish point, we knew it was all worthy,” Dr Ali said. “We dedicate this achievement to The Emir of Qatar H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and to the people of Qatar. We deeply thank our families who greatly supported us during the past few months, and of course, we also thank our gold partners, Al Asmakh Real Estate Development and BMI Fitness, without them it was not possible to achieve this,” he added.

Each member of the relay team had to swim for an hour covering a distance ranging between 4-5 kms in water temperatures that reached as low as 15 °C, before returning to the boat for recovery which required eating special meals that helped the body to re-produce heat from inside. The order of the relay was pre-determined ahead of the attempt and could not be changed. “The conditions were extremely difficult. We had to put an extra effort and push hard in order not to be pulled south by the strong currents. Sometimes we felt that we were not moving forward because of the currents, but at the end we did it, and it is hard to describe the joy of completing this challenge,” Dr Jamal Al Khanji described the conditions faced by the team during their successful attempt.

Throughout the journey, the team was accompanied by captain Pete Reed and his boat Rowena, both are certified by Channel Swimming Association (CSA), the organization responsible for observing and authenticating Cross-Channel Swims. An official from the association was also present during the attempt. With Qatar facing a blockade from a number of neighboring countries since June of last year, Team Qatar Channel Swim wanted to send an important message to the world. “We wanted to show the world the real strength of the Qatari people. When we face pressure, we fight hard to achieve our goals. We chose the English Channel Swim because it is one of the hardest physical challenges in the world, and we succeeded in crossing it despite the extremely difficult conditions that we have faced. It is a great honour to be part of this team” Dr. Mohammed Al Kuwari said.

When Dr. Khalid Al Jalham swam the final kilometers of the challenge and reached the finish point near Wissant, the reception was overwhelming. “When people on the beach saw the Qatari flag, they were really happy and started to celebrate with me, they kept cheering me until I started to make the short trip back to the boat. It was an incredible feeling at the end of a very difficult challenge,” Dr. Al Jalham explained.

source: The Peninsula