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Extreme challenger of mountain and ocean – Charlie Wittmack

Five years after Charlie Wittmack trudged to the 29,035 foot summit of Mt. Everest, he’ll soon attempt a 21-mile-swim across the English Channel.

If he’s successful, the 31-year-old trial lawyer from Des Moines will be the first American to achieve both feats. Only three others have done it, an accomplishment known as the peak and the pond.

“It’s a challenge that’s been floating around in adventure circles for a while now,” Wittmack said in a telephone interview from England while waiting for seas to calm enough for his attempt.

If the weather cooperates, Wittmack plans to dive into the waters of the English Channel about 10 a.m. Friday at Shakespeare Beach in Dover. He hopes to climb out of the channel on the French coast about 12 hours later. For Wittmack, it’s his latest venture into the world of extreme sports.

On May 22, 2003, he reached the summit of Mt. Everest. He trained seven years for the climb and once there, he found himself in what he said were the worst conditions ever recorded on the mountain.

“I spent three days without food or water and a day without oxygen above 20,000 feet,” Wittmack said.

The conditions in the English Channel should be considerably better, but not without risk.

“We expect the water to be up to 67 degrees this week — at that level hypothermia is still a major concern,” said Wittmack.

Wittmack, who swam for Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, began training for the channel swim about three years ago. For the past six months, he’s been training four hours a day, most of it swimming. He has been swimming every other weekend in either Lake Michigan or Lake Superior, and he’s competed in a 12{-mile race in Key West, Fla.

He said his experience on Everest inspired him to attempt the channel crossing.

“I realized after that that my body was predisposed for climbing at higher elevations,” he said. “After Everest I wanted to try something that would be as great a challenge and I decided on the English Channel.”

Michael Reed, president of the Channel Swimming Association, confirmed Wittmack would be the first American to accomplish both feats. The other swimmers were from Britain, Greece and Mexico.

Wittmack said plenty of people in adventure circles consider the dual challenge, but few have attempted both.

“The reason it’s difficult is because of the body’s physiology,” he said.

Wittmack said climbers, such as himself, tend to be shorter with less body fat and a high weight-to-strength ratio. By comparison, long distance swimmers tend to have higher body fat, which makes them more buoyant, and taller with longer limbs to help propel themselves through the water faster.

Randy Clark, the manager of the exercise science laboratory at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Sports Medicine Center in Madison, Wis., said that while mountain climbers and distance swimmers tend to have different physical characteristics, there is an underlying similarity.

“There is some cross over in physiological and psychological makeup,” he said. “Anybody that is able to climb Mt. Everest or do anything that is highly physically demanding over a long period of time, it takes incredible cardiovascular fitness, and I would say the same about swimming the English Channel.

“You can’t underestimate the need for incredible cardiovascular fitness to pull off either of those events, let alone both,” Clark said.”

Wittmack arrived in England nearly two weeks ago and in his first practice swim in the colder water his legs “seized up.”

Oh, Oh, that doesn’t sound too good……….but less us hope he is better acclimatised when he sets out.As ¬†Edward Williams’ said:¬†PAIN IS TEMPORARY – GLORY IS FOREVER.

Good luck Charlie.

Thanks to Michael J. Crumb of the Chicago Tribune.com for the article.

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