By Patrick Filleux (AFP) – May 22, 2011
PARIS — A Frenchman who gained fame for swimming the English Channel with no arms or legs has set himself a new challenge: to cross five continents in waters marked by sharks, poisonous jellyfish, icy currents and cargo ships.
Philippe Croizon, 43, who lost both his arms and legs in an electrical accident 17 years ago, has begun preparing one year ahead to swim hundreds of kilometres in waters connecting five continents from May to August.
"My crossing of the Channel was a message of hope and of life to all my fellow companions in misfortune," Croizon said, who will be accompanied by long-distance swimming champion Arnaud Chassery, 34.
"With this new challenge, we intend to accomplish an act of peace, of solidarity, of sharing with all able-bodied and handicapped men, of all skin colors, cultures and backgrounds combined," said the father of two.
Doctors were forced to amputate his limbs after he was hit by a 20,000-volt charge in 1994 as he tried to dismantle a television antenna from a house roof.
As he recovered in hospital he saw a television documentary about a Channel swimmer and an ambition was born. He used special prostheses with flippers to make the crossing.
In the first round the pair will swim some 20 kilometers (12 miles) in the Pacific Ocean separating Wutung, an isolated fishing outpost in Papua New Guinea to another coastal village in Indonesia.
The swimmers will face strong currants in waters there, known as a habitat of sharks and the extremely poisonous "Irukandji" jellyfish that can kill a person in less than twenty minutes if its sting wound is untreated.
If all goes well as planned, the two men will then swim 25 kilometres in June in the Gulf of Aqaba from Jordan to the Egyptian coast.
The following month Croizon and Chassery will continue continent-hopping from Africa to Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar, rubbing shoulders with cargo ships that sail through this chokepoint.
The most spectacular event will be reserved for the end, in August: the Bering Strait separating Russia with the Asian continent -- a round-trip of a dozen kilometres in waters close to zero degrees Celsius.
"Since the Channel (swim) I received many moving stories of handicapped people from all over the world. I know that I have given hope back to many," said Croizon.
"My most beautiful reward was at a school in Rouen (France) where I had given a talk about my adventure, when a 12-year old student told me: 'Mister, you have won a big challenge and I would also like to have one," he said.
"'What is it, my boy?' I asked. He answered: 'I would like to give you a big hug.' I took him against my body -- he was crying...so was I!"
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