Although it has been almost 150 years since Englishman Matthew Webb became the first person to make the crossing between England and France without a buoyancy aid in 1875, the number of people who have successfully swum the Channel still remains low. In fact, more people have climbed Mt Everest.
The openly-gay Filipowski not only completed the crossing last August in just over 14.5 hours, but a few months later he was also named by the Channel Swimming Association as its Most Meritorious Swimmer for 2013.
“When you do your swim, there is an observer from the Channel Swimming Association on your boat to make sure that you follow the rules,” Filipowski told the Star Observer last week.
“The observer writes a report about your swim; the conditions you faced on the day, how you did and what you encountered.
“After the end of the Channel swimming season every year the observers and officials from the association look at the reports and they decide who should get the award. I was given the award for the day that I had and the way that I performed in the water during my crossing.”
Originally born and raised in Indiana, USA, Filipowski has been swimming since a young age but only started endurance swimming after he moved to Australia in 2004. Now a dual Australian-US citizen, Filipowski said he felt like he could complete any goal after training hard for over two years in preparation for the swim.
He said he faced a number of challenges – including having to swim in cold water and to gain weight to insulate his body against the harsh conditions, while also being aware of which foods would best serve him during the swim.
“I worked with a dietitian on that. Over the course of two years, we determined that Ovaltine, Ribena and Coca-Cola were the things that would best propel me across the Channel,” he said.
“The first thing about solo swims like this is that they aren’t possible unless you have a good team in place to provide support. When I say team and the people who supported me, that includes my workplace as I needed a lot of flexibility to do the training. In terms of my team members, it included my coach who is based in Sydney and my partner Sonny who spent a lot of time training with me,” he said.
“The swim team that I’m a member of, Vladswim, had coaches there who prior to my training had already put swimmers through the English Channel.”
Filipowski added that while his coach accompanied him on the boat, it was he who remained in the water for hours as swells of two to three metres kicked up around him.
“It was particularly rough right when I approached France but thankfully I had trained well and made it. There was a small crowd of people there and they watched me come up and clapped,” he said.
“I wanted to do the swim as an out athlete because I want to help send a message that there are programs out there that are accepting of everybody.”