YOU WOULD BE forgiven for questioning the sanity of Steve Redmond.
The 47-year-old, who was raised in London, moved to Castledermot, Co Kildare, and now lives in Cork, has been pushing his body to the absolute physical limit over the past few years.
He’s felt muscles he didn’t even know he had cramp up midway through 44-miles of hell in Hawaii, swam in icy cold waters with nothing but a pair of speedos and a swimming cap to protect him and suffered countless stings while meeting a bloom of jellyfish during an arduous trip across the North Channel.
Other encounters with sea life include being kept company by a school of sharks and coming to within feet of a dozen whales, who were breeding alongside him.
The first thing I’m dying to find out then is why would somebody in their right mind put themselves through such punishment?
It’s a very Irish thing,” is his answer. ”You tell an Irish person they can’t do something and they’ll do everything they can to prove you wrong.”
Redmond, a former rugby prop who was “22 stone at 20 years of age”, swam as a child and spent ten years as a commercial diver. Later in life, he got into triathlons and quickly discovered that endurance was a skill he possessed in abundance.
When a friend mentioned he was training to do the English Channel in 2009, he decided to give it a shot. Three years on, it has snowballed to that a point where he now stands one marathon swim away from becoming the first person to ever complete the Ocean’s Seven: “We just sort of fell into it,” he reveals.
“After the first two, we got an email saying ‘Now you’ve done the hard ones are you going to take on the rest?’. We never set out to do seven. If you told me I would be doing this a few years back I’d have said ‘you’re crackers’.”
Steve at Lough Hyne. Credit: Neil Danton
Branded the ‘Seven Summits of the sea’, it consists of the Irish (North) Channel, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel in California, the Strait of Gibraltar, New Zealand’s Cook Strait, Moloka’i Channel in Hawaii and the Tsugaru Strait, which connects Honshu, the main island of Japan, with Hokkaido in the north.
The trips, which can cost up to €6,000 each, have been funded by sponsorships, fundraising and donations from locals in Skibbereen, where Redmond fits training in around his day job and family life: “The family (wife Anne, son Steve and daughter Sadbh) have been very tolerant and the kids swim with me.”
You will often find him in Lough Hyne at 4am in the morning before he heads to work in a tool hire shop.
We’ve had tonnes of donations,” he says. “Everything from fundraisers to fishermen giving you ten or twenty euro so you don’t want to cock it up. You’re staring failure in the face until the very last stroke and it’s the fear of returning home having let everyone down that keeps you going.
“It’s like climbing Mount Everest bollock naked and blindfold. I try to lock myself in with self-hypnosis but think about getting out every second of the swim.
“You don’t bother looking in front of you because it’s like a 500 metre field ahead.
“And in the cold water, we don’t kick our feet. It’s all about keeping the blood up at your shoulders and your torso.”
Although he does the swims alone, Redmond often speaks about ‘we’ in the plural. “We did the first couple for the Irish cancer society, and I’ve had a few friends who died from it. It may sound strange but I always imagine them alongside me.”
Another tool he uses is to say words and phrases to himself as he takes a breath. Things like ‘never give up’, ‘accept pain’ and his children’s names Sive and Steve.
In February, he made the trip to New Zealand and Hawaii where he was forced to take in two of the seven swims in the space of a week, which is unheard of, because of financial restraints.
And although Redmond admits that he came close to failing during the second one before eventually completing it after an unbelievable 22 hours in the water, he was gobsmacked by the reception which met him.
“You don’t realise how important it is to be Irish until you’re away. It was very humbling to see a group of people who’d we’d met in tears when we eventually came in.”
Redmond insists there are much better swimmers in Ireland than him so how has he achieved so much?
Bloody-mindedness. We’re not doing it for money or ego. The whole of Skibbereen is counting on us.”
So with just one final remaining to make history, the plan is to travel to Japan in June. If it doesn’t happen, the record is likely to go to England’s Penny Palfrey who has only the North Channel left and is scheduled to attempt it later this year.
However, with Steve’s relentless determination and extraordinary will to succeed you would have to be crazy to back against him.
YouTube credit: openwaterswimmingcom