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Sean Conway rode bike round world with fractured back - but says this was toughest journey yet

A Cheltenham man who last year cycled round the world despite suffering injuries including a fractured back when he was hit by a truck in the United States has completed a journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats the hard way – not by bicycle, but swimming.

Sean Conway, aged 32 and originally from Zimbabwe, arrived at the village in Caithness at the northeastern tip of the Scottish mainland just after noon on Monday, more than four months after setting off from Cornwall on 30 June.

Along the way, he had to battle freezing temperatures, poor weather and stinging jellyfish – the latter leading to him growing a beard to help protect his face against them.

He is the first person to have swum the entire length of Great Britain’s west coast – indeed, the first to attempt it – and estimates that his 900-mile journey meant that his arms had to make 3 million strokes.

The water temperature meant that by the end of the journey, his jaw was so cold that he was only able to eat pureed food.

The day before he completed the swim, Conway, who was raising money for the charity War Child, told the Gloucestershire Echo: "It is by far the biggest challenge I have taken up, and it was freezing in the water.

"It is the most fascinating adventure ever, but I'm now looking forward to finishing and coming home.

"The reception I have received in places where we have got on shore has been incredible, the support has been just incredible," he said.

"I didn't really know what I was getting into, but I have had the privilege of seeing the British coastline in a way most people will never do, and I am thankful for that.

"It is a side of the country I really enjoyed. I've met all sorts of people, including fishermen and other people living on the coast, all of whom have been amazing.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever done,” he added.

“That said, I'm really glad I have done it. I don't think anyone will try it ever again, if they know the reality of it. If someone wants to, I will definitely help them, but it will be cold!"

Last year, Conway took part in the inaugural World Cycle Racing Grand Tour, the round-the-world race that began in Greenwich in February 2012. He recounted his trip in his book, World Cycling Stripped Bare.

The low point of that 16,000-mile journey came in March last year as he rode through the US Midwest and was struck from behind by a truck, the collision leaving him with injuries including fractured vertebrae and torn muscles.

A couple working at the Arkansas medical centre where he was treated took him in as a temporary lodger to recuperate at their home, and a local bike shop helped him get back on the road, Conway arriving back in London ahead on 16 July to complete the circumnavigation.

It wasn’t the quickest time set in the race, won by Mike Hall in 92 days – but many would argue that Conway’s ride was the most heroic.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

4 comments

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CameronB [10 posts] 2 years ago
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As a John O'Groats exile i have to say a big well done for swimming in the waters up there. As a kid i wouldn't dream of going in past my ankles.

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William Black [193 posts] 2 years ago
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Blokes a bloody hero.

I surfed at Thurso once. That was some of the coldest, brownest water I've ever been in. (A million times nicer than the effluent they call the sea in Northumberland/Yorkshire but still the coldest).

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jarredscycling [456 posts] 2 years ago
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That is a really intimidating picture of him on the top right of the article. But seriously pretty astounding feat!!!

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spaceyjase [53 posts] 2 years ago
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What a f--king legend.