- Discipline : Aquatics sport > Swimming
- Disability : Amputation bras bilatérale
- Set by : THIERRY CORBALAN
- Nationality : FRENCH
- Location : Propriano
This year, I enrolled as a messenger for the association « Valin Cap », which organised an event for the integration of disability from September 20th – 22nd. My mission was to swim from Ajaccio in Corsica to Propriano. At the same time, two other messengers - Frank Bruno et Jérôme Tant, amputated respectively of their tibia and femur, were to cycle from Cap Corse to the Gulf of Valinco in five stages, while a third, Joe Kals, a paraplegic, set off from Bonifacio on crutches.
With Patrick’s kayak loaded on the car, we set off towards the beach at Barbicaggia, which was the starting point for this long adventure. We arrived at 06:20 to find some friends waiting for us : Estelle, François and Louis who had come from Propriano, Claude from Trova near Ajaccio, while Françoise and Richard only had a few hundred yards to travel. At the same time, the patrol boat from the gendarmerie maritime left its base to join us, and to ensure the safety of the event, with Laurent, the second kayak pilot, on board. My friend Jean Pierre left the port of Tino Rossi on his yacht Bavaria, accompanied by his wife Nathalie, as well as my friends Daniel, Joseph and Armand.
The two boats arrived a few hundred yards away from the beach. Laurent left the Gravona P610 and paddled his way to join us. I gave Patricia one last kiss, telling her not to worry and that we would soon be reunited at Propriano. Patrick helped me to get ready, then ent to pick up his kayak from where he had left it on the beach. Once the whole team was ready, the starting whistle was blown at 07:10. The sea was quite choppy, but nothing to worry about. Laurent was trailing a decoy which would help me as a guide, with a rearview mirror fixed onto his kayak so as to see me and adapt his speed. After only a few hundred yards, I felt a sharp stinging sensation on my nose and lip : visibility was not yet perfect, and there were jellyfish around! I would have to be very careful, and for the next 45 minutes I spent my time doing my best to avoid them, because if I got stung again severely, I would have to stop. I was concentrating so hard on avoiding the transparent little beggars that I didn’t notice that the weather conditions were getting worse. The Ajaccio coastguards came out to join us in their semi-rigid dinghy : having them there meant extra safety, and the orange colour of their boat made it easy to see ; however, it’s difficult to stay together when the waves are at least 2 metres high. The waves slow down my progression, it’s a struggle to keep going forward, and the guys in the kayaks have to be very careful in such hostile conditions. Every 45 minutes, Laurent stops to give me an isotonic drink. These one-minute pauses are very important if I want to avoid over-tiring quickly and getting cramp through a prolonged muscular effort.
As we approached Capu di Mauru, which marks the exit of the Gulf of Ajaccio, I saw that the sea was very rough, as I had been warned it could be on this part of the coast. I raise my head to locate my position : I can’t see Laurent and his kayak, but there’s a 3-metre high wave in front of me, and my friend right at the top of it. Patrick doesn’t look worried : he’s in control of the situation, in spite of his lack of experience in extreme navigational conditions.
The coastguards have to leave us, because they are out of their territorial bounds. Jean-Pierre’s boat has had to return to Tino Rossi port, due to engine trouble. The gendarmerie maritime are on their own now, ensuring our safety with their patrol boat and the semi-rigid dinghy. As we leave the gulf, the tide turns : the waves are still just as strong, but we have the impression that we’re surfing. However, our progression is slowed down by a strong current in the opposite direction. All my efforts are in vain : I do the best I can, but I can’t get beyond a speed of 3 kilometres an hour. When we do the stop after 6 hours and 45 minutes of swimming, I ask my partner how we are doing, and his answer knocks me flat : just 21 kilometres? My legs feel heavy, I’m not making enough progress : there’s at least the same distance left to go, and the jellyfish are back : because of the spray, we can’t see them, and it increases the risk of coming into contact with one and getting stung. Before getting me fitted up, Patricia put my amulet (a lock of hair from my friend Laura, who is no longer with us but who watches over all of my exploits) on my chest. And she must have been there for me, otherwise how could I possibly have swum all that way in the midst of these stinging beasts and come out of it unscathed ?
We come across a group of free divers off the coast, and they advise us to swim a bit closer to the coast, where the current isn’t so strong. I have to admit that I am suffering, and that isn’t something that often happens to me. The other messengers must have arrived by now : they just need me to arrive to open the Valincap event. So, I have to search deep down in me for the strength to keep going. It isn’t easy for my two friends either : they have been paddling for 9 hours in adverse conditions. However, the current seems to have diminished, and we are approaching Porto Pollo. A dozen or so boats have come out to meet us, and to go the last few kilometers with us. My little humming-bird is there, as well as the two other messengers, Frank and Jérôme. There is also Véro, Jean Michel, Patrick , Guy, and many others… Patricia asks me how I am doing, and I have to tell her that it’s tough. She isn’t used to hearing me complain, and it worries her.
However, I can see the buildings of Propriano in the distance, and all the boats around me make me forget how exhausted I am. The underwater-view boat goes back and forward, and for the last few metres it carries the group Teranga, who beat out a rhythm for me to follow. I’m now up to a speed of 5 kilometres per hour, after 10 hours of swimming, and I can just make out the masts of the yachts in the marina. There is a sea wall around the marina, and there are crowds of people there, waiting for the last messenger to arrive. I come to a halt in front of them to give them a « dolphin salute », and then move into position between my two friends in their kayaks so that we can all arrive together. About a thousand people are there, waiting for us on the quayside. It’s 7:15 p.m. ; my first kiss will be for Patricia , as always, and the second one for the person who started me off on this quest for going beyond my limits : Frank Bruno. A very warm welcome follows, and it is a pity that my two friends, Laurent and Patrick, couldn’t stay to see it, as they had to go back straight away. Heartfelt thanks to my two companions, for accompanying me so humbly.