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About swimming, self-denial and jellyfish

Fast confession – amateur sea swimmer Jaroslav Chytil: He conquered the North Channel despite dozens of jellyfish stings

Karolína Lišková
17.Sep 2018
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8 minutes

He swam over forty kilometers in sixteen hours. He is not a professional athlete. Jaroslav Chytil chose to conquer the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, the largest swimming challenge from the Ocean Seven. He had to withstand waves, sea currents and dozens of jellyfish. All without a wet suit, even though the surrounding water temperature did not reach more than 14 degrees. He succeeded as the first Czech at the beginning of August. And now he is preparing for another goal. During his morning training, he took a few moments to give an interview to Luxury Prague Life.

Po šestnácti hodinách plavání zapíchl Jaroslav hrdě českou vlajku na skotském pobřeží.
Bar Pier 36 in Donaghadee
His 3 children

What person are you to conquer the North Channel?

The 58th.

And as a Czech?

As the second Czech, or the first Czech man, first because the Czech person was a woman. Last summer it was conquered by Abhejali Bernardová.

Luxusní vila na prodej, Dolní Měcholupy - 616m
Luxusní vila na prodej, Dolní Měcholupy - 616m, Praha 10

And she's Czech?

She had a different name, a Czech one, but she is from the Sri Chinmoy cult, so she accepted an Indian name.

When did you get the idea to do it?

It occurred to me a few years ago when I discovered that I was extremely hardy, so I started thinking about where I could swim.

How did you find out?

Since 2011, I have been hardening myself like most of the cold water swimmers in the Czech Republic and I found out that I don't shiver as bad as the others. I tried staying in the water for longer and longer periods of time.

What else have you accomplished?

At the moment I am the most hardened Czech person. I stayed in four-degree water for 63 minutes and walked away on my own. I also swam the longest distance in icy water, 2,100 meters. These are my Czech records.

In what water?

About 4.1 degrees. Those 63 minutes I swam in the Vltava river near Braník, and the other I swam in Podolí in an unheated pool this winter, when the water temperature was 4.3 °C

Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9 - 176m
Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9 - 176m, Praha 9

And how was swimming in the North Sea?

The North Channel is 34 and a half kilometers long, but due to the sea currents one swims a lot more. It's about half a kilometer longer than the English Channel, but it does not play a role because you always swim around 40 to 45 km. I swam 41.1 kilometers before I finally got to the Scottish coast. The North Channel is the hardest of the Ocean's Seven, a series of seven straits across the world that extreme long-distance swimmers want to swim. So far, eleven have managed it, and the North Channel is left to the end because of the cold water, because most swimmers don't finish it because of hypothermia or jellyfish. There are about five kinds of jelly, but only Lion's mane are dangerous. The Czech name “saucers” is not quite adequate for such creatures. These jellyfish are the second most frequent cause of the premature ending of the crossing attempt.

I got stung hundreds of times. In that water I expected it to be worse, it is more like a thicker nettle, but due to the fact that one is cooled and vasoconstriction occurs, there is no transport of poison into the body. As soon as you warm up, something the locals call the “jellyfish dance” occurs, which means you start to shiver, you fluster as if drunk, and it lasts quite a long time. The skin feels as if someone has cut or stabbed you. At about midnight I got to bed, but I could not sleep even though I was tired. I fell asleep in the morning for one hour.

What other animals did you meet?

Somewhere in the distance were sea lions. I was a little afraid of them, because the animal is roughly the same size as me. Although it does not attack humans, it is still a beast. There were no sharks, they are not found so far north. I had a smaller incident with a seagull when I was swimming and I had two strokes on one breath, and when I took a breath, the seagull hung over me. One thinks that it is about the size of a pigeon, but the seagull is far larger, especially because of its huge beak. I made two more strokes and took a breath, and the seagull was still watching me from a height of two meters, which is not much.

He didn't peck me, after a while he turned. I saw that he was flying away, and he came back and watched me again from that height. I do not know what his intention was, but it was a diversion of a long journey. Local people say it is the spirit of Tom Blower, the first conqueror of the North Channel, who occasionally accompanies swimmers on their attempt.

How many hours did it take you?

I swam across the North Channel in sixteen hours and four minutes. In the beginning the water was wonderful, like "oil". Unfortunately, it got worse afterwards and there were half a meter to meter high waves. In the beginning it seemed I was going to conquer the channel in fourteen hours, but it was sixteen in the end. But I don't care about the time.

How do you eat, drink? Besides, you did not even have a wet suit.

A wet suit is forbidden, even though a Japanese woman who started on the same day as me wore a wet suit, so they warned her that her attempt would not be valid. She managed to get hypothermia after six hours even with the wet suit.

I ate every twenty minutes. You must not touch anybody or the boat, so they throw you mixed food in a cycle-bottle so you get it in you as soon as possible. I ate, or rather drank, a sort of carbohydrate ionic drink.

What was your body temperature when you got out of the water?

We did not measure it because we had a lot of other things to worry about, but I was not suffering from hypothermia, I know what that looks like from winter swimming. The surface of the body is not important, it is usually the same as the water temperature. The center of the body is important and we would not be able to measure that anyway. I had to get the lanolin and Vaseline off my body and get dressed. The water temperature was at least 12.3 degrees, mostly around 13 degrees. At the Scottish coast it was 14.4 degrees, which was almost like coffee. (laughter)

Why did you wear Vaseline?

Vaseline with lanolin is because of chafing. Many people think it's because of the cold, but it does not help. It's because when you perform tens of thousands of strokes, the salty water is strongly degreases and the swimmer would chafe his armpits until bleeding. It partially helps against jellyfish.

How did you feel when you finally finished and scrambled to the shore with that flag?

Sixteen hours and four minutes is a long time, so it was an amazing feeling. It was great.

What about sleep? You must have been tired.

I wanted to sleep, but it was because of the jellyfish, because of the dozens, maybe hundreds of stings, I stopped counting them, I was in such a weird state, I was shivering, as if drunk. I got to bed at midnight, but I could not sleep at all. I was shaking and sweating. I wanted to sleep, but I was not able to. It was a feeling like when someone is cutting or stabbing you. I have never before experienced it. At three o'clock in the morning I furiously googled what to do about it. On the internet they wrote: piss on it, put vinegar on it. They gave a lot of advice, elsewhere they said no peeing and definitely no vinegar. The did agree on warm water, forty-five degrees, so I got into the tub.

In the bathtub it stopped, I set a timer for half an hour because they recommended 20 minutes and 45 degrees, so I wanted to be sure. I started to fall asleep in the bath, and I thought: I swam across the channel and now I will drown in the bath. Then I got into bed, I was dizzy from the blood pressure drop in the hot water, and after half an hour it started again. In the morning I finally fell asleep around seven, and after an hour, because I forgot to put my phone on silent, people started calling me because I swam on a Sunday and it was a Monday, people from work who did not know I was away. Afterwards I didn't sleep anymore.

Moreover, I did not sleep very much the day before, because we were doing everything for the first time, so we wrongly estimated how long the preparations for all the things on the ship would take. So we prepared everything, and I was supposed to be in the harbor at three o'clock in the morning, and I didn't get to bed until about half past 10, and I was too excited about how things would go to sleep, anyway. So I slept for about four hours...My team was far worse off. After I went to sleep, they continued the preparations with dedication, and then they got up before me to put hot water into the thermos they slept awfully little.

What does your training look like?

I trained hard for the North Channel for about two years. In the last few months I have been swimming about 50 km per week in two-phase training sessions, where I swim in the morning before work, then go to work and swim again after work. It is a lot of effort and time that a person has to devote to it. Complementary sports are good, but not necessary. You have to swim and swim.

What do the doctors say?

I'm 42 years old, and my GP was not very happy because you have to bring a lot of medical reports with you to the North Channel. It is, of course, an extreme performance. I take part in the Czech Cup in winter swimming and I'm also watched year round, just like the other swimmers. At least once a year I have to go to the bike and track my ECG. The reason is that when you get into the cold water, your blood vessels constrict and the heart should be able to manage it.

And what about illnesses?

I'm rarely ill, like most cold water swimmers. If someone in my vicinity is ill for two, three weeks, for me it's about a day when I don't feel well, but I can go to work.

What about your family, did your wife and children support you?

My wife and children watched it since morning. I also found that for a lot of people it was a bit of a reality show because I had a GPS tracker on the web and everyone could watch where I was in the sea. In addition, my team uploaded current photos and videos during the crossing. There was a cellphone on the ship where my family and friends could write, and using a whiteboard, where most swimmers get information about how many strokes a minute they have, how far they are, and other technical information without the need to stop , I received various positive messages from my family and friends that I should not give up and should keep swimming, which really made me feel supported.

But you've decided to elevate the swimming to a higher goal...

I wanted to swim for a good cause. If I were to bring media attention to myself, I wanted to draw attention to some praiseworthy activity. I chose the Children's Transport Foundation, which supports children whose parents lost their lives in traffic accidents. Every year, more than five hundred people die on the roads, and over two thousand are seriously injured. These are personal tragedies that one should think about before using their mobile phone behind the wheel, for example, and then being surprised that they crash into the car in front of them.

Did you collect any funds?

I had a fund at Startovač with a target amount of 150,000, but unfortunately it was not reached and all the money went back. I still have a transparent account, but I'm not sure if the money will come together.

This sport is not free, who sponsored you on your journey?

Of course, I tried to get sponsors, but sponsors prefer football, hockey, and so on. It could be said that this is not such an attractive sport, because when I appeared on the Scottish coast no one was waiting for me there. (smile)

What is your job when you are not swimming?

I have a real estate management company.

Do your wife and children also swim in cold water?

My wife is not harden herself because for her it is complete science fiction. She likes thirty-five degrees in the shade. The children started cold water swimming for the first time two years ago, and I did not want to let them because their thermoregulation is not as good as that of adults. I have three children, my daughter eventually stayed in the swimming pool, but the younger sons continued to swim in cold water. Last year at Christmas they swam at the National Theater, where they made did one hundred meters in icy water.

What's your next goal?

On August 15th, 1990, František Venclovský and Jan Novák were the first people to swim across Lake Baikal, which I would like to repeat after thirty years, next year the relay and the following summer my next goal is Baikal solo. If I could speed up, I'd like to swim the North Channel there and back, but I would have to be at the Scottish coast in 12 hours.

Fast confession:

How old were you when you learned to swim?


Which marine species are you most afraid of?


Which sea was the best you have ever swum in?

The Adriatic.

Do you urge your family to swim in cold water also?


When were you last sick and what was the illness?

In winter, I had a cold for one day.

What is the best swimmer's diet?

None, eating normally.

Do you follow the rule not to step twice into the same river?

No, I swim regularly everywhere.

When did you feel the most proud to be Czech?

When I conquered the North Channel.

What keeps you going?


What do you do when you can't swim anymore?

I keep going.

What do you do when you are not swimming?

I exercise, ride a bike, run.

Who would you like to invite for a cold water swim from Czech politics?

Probably the entire Czech government, in the coldest water possible.

AnchorWhich Czech swimmer do you think is the most sexy?

Lenka Štěrbová.

Water which you would never enter?

The interviewee asks the editor:

Are you going to do cold water swimming?

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