Philippe Croizon — Quadruple Amputee Swims Four Straits

In the frigid waters of the Bering Strait, while dodging floating ice, Philippe Croizon relied on his 18 months of training to keep himself focused. “One… two… three… four…” Croizon repeated in his head as the rough waters crashed around his shoulders and face. Croizon had trained his mind to shift away from emotional thoughts and to stick strictly to mechanics.

Croizon, who is a French athlete and quadruple amputee, recently completed one of the most impressive accomplishments in water thanks to that steely mind-set: he connected five continents with four swims. Croizon partnered with able-bodied athlete Arnaud Chassery for their international challenge, beginning back in May 2012 and completing the task in August. The duo completed four swims in four months:

• The first swim began in Oceania, concluded in Asia.
• The second swim began in Africa, concluded in Asia.
• The third swim began in Africa, concluded in Europe.
• The fourth & final swim spanned from America to Asia.

Croizon and Chassery swam nearly 53 total miles and spent 45 total hours in the water. The first question that comes to mind regarding Croizon’s accomplishment is: what was he thinking? “I tried to avoid thinking in general!” said Croizon, who used prosthetic flippers at the end of his legs. “I completed sessions of Sophrology—mental and physical exercises—for several months to learn to manage emotion, particularly while swimming.”

According to the International Sophrology Federation, Sophrology consists of mental and physical exercises that lead to a healthy, relaxed body and alert mind. Croizon said he used the exercises to ensure that his emotions didn’t overcome his body.

“I listen to my body to see if everything is going well,” Croizon said. “I think about my two boys and my partner in life, Suzana. When I feel my emotions are taking over, I begin to count my movements, “One, two, three, four,” then I look at the boat and repeat, “One, two, three, four.”

Resorting back to the counting of movements kept Croizon calm and focused on his task. And his task was a hefty one. Croizon’s pathway to the water began March 5, 1994. His arms and legs were amputated following an electrical accident, and he struggled facing such a new life. During his recovery, Croizon watched a documentary about a woman who swam the English Channel. That’s when Croizon decided he could do that, too.

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Croizon admits he was a “couch potato” prior to his accident, mostly watching sports on TV rather than participating in them. But the documentary changed him. “Two and a half months after my accident, I truly woke up and decided to live,” Croizon said. “I did this for my two sons, who need a father to guide them through life.

“A few days after this realization, I was watching television and saw a 17-year-old girl who had successfully completed her second swim across the English Channel. At that moment, it was as if I had forgotten that I had lost both my arms and legs, as I envisioned overcoming everything. I said to myself, ‘Why can’t I do that one day?’ without truly understanding what this statement and decision would represent.”

The first step to his new lease on life was more like a major jump. “Getting up and off the couch, my first big challenge was to go skydiving. We jumped out of a plane at almost 16,000 feet,” Croizon said. “A journalist asked me what my next challenge would be, and without hesitation I replied, ‘Crossing the English Channel.’”

Croizon began a rigorous training schedule of swimming five hours a day in open waters with the French marine police, also known as the Maritime Gendarmerie. Following two years of dedication, hard work, and water training—in addition to support from several French political leaders—the 42-year-old Croizon crossed the 21-mile English Channel on Sept. 18, 2010, more than 16 years after his accident. His time was slightly under 14 hours.

Shortly afterward, he decided to target his international challenge of connecting five continents with four swims along with swimming partner Chassery. The preparation, however, was far greater than anything Croizon had ever endured.

“Getting ready for this challenge required [a] strong will and commitment,” Croizon explained. “I swam between three and five hours per day, and followed that with an hour of strength training. Arnaud Chassery and I trained in Brittany (France) in the fall and spring to experience conditions similar to the ones we would encounter in our four swims: cold water, with strong currents. We also went to Toulon (France) to meet with divers from the French Navy and learn from their experience in very cold water. Finally, we worked with doctors to mimic the physical effects that we would be up against. And, we went to a lake in Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via (France), which is at an altitude of 6,500 feet, to load our red blood cells. Basically, it was 18 months of very intensive training.”

In April 2012, Croizon announced the international challenge. A month later, he and Chassery completed their first 12-mile swim from Australia to Asia. In June, the duo finished the second leg of the feat, swimming 12 miles across the Red Sea. In July, they swam nine miles across the Strait of Gibraltar. Poor weather delayed the final piece of the puzzle by four days, but Croizon and Chassery completed their challenge on Aug. 17th when they swam across the Bering Strait’s 39-degree waters.

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Croizon credits his wife, Suzana, for her support, and said he never considered stopping the challenge. His motivation was far greater than swimming the open waters. “I want to demonstrate that a disability is not the end of oneself and that a person who has a handicap can accept this and be happy,” Croizon said. “People with disabilities participate in sports because they enjoy it, not because they are seeking recognition. They are doing their best to be part of our community and society. Achieving your personal best is usually the goal for any athlete, able-bodied or otherwise.”

Chassery concurred. “Everyone has to surpass themselves in their own way, with their own means,” he added. “You need to know how to listen to your heart; the energy that resides there is common to all humans.”

While Croizon is reaping many of the benefits and collecting recognition for the international challenge, he is quick to mention his swimming partner Chassery. In fact, Croizon said, the fact that the duo completed the task together epitomizes Croizon’s message to the world.

“While symbolically linking five continents, Arnaud Chassery and I put forth the universal messages of courage, equal opportunity, and international peace and solidarity,” Croizon said. “If two people, one with a disability and the other able-bodied, are capable of bridging five continents, we are not that different, are we?”

by Josh Pate

Articles in the Kurt Yaeger Issue; Ashley Fiolek — Off Season, But Still Racing Around; Geri Jewell — Let’s Vote for Each Other; Humor — A Day in a Life; Philippe Croizon — Quadruple Amputee Swims Four Straits; Paul Pelland 2 — MS, Eat My Dust!; Rick Howland — His Lost Girl Fantasy; Solo-Dx — Silence Never Sounded So Good; The Sessions — The 38-Year-Old Virgin; Kurt Yaeger — ‘Son of Anarchy’; China Press — Art of the Exchange; Chinese Lessions — She’s 86, Teaching From the Heart; DRLC — Enforcing the ADAs; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences… subscribe


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