I'm swimming the channel for premature babies

We’re raising $74,000 for a new VENTILATOR

The Challenge

This September I am planning to swim across the English Channel from England to France. The water is cold, there is plenty of swell, large tides and jelly fish. You can only swim when the conditions are right, so I’m likely to kick-off in the dead of night with the prospect of 12-16 hours of non-stop swimming ahead of me. The straight-line distance is 36km however this ranges widely depending on conditions. In 1923, poor old Henry Sullivan’s crossing was an estimated 90km!

More people have climbed Everest than swum the Channel.

The Cause

In Australia, 1 in 12 babies are born prematurely, which equates to 26,000 babies every year. Many of these babies require Neonatal Intensive Care, which is one of the most expensive parts of health care. Caring for a premature baby can cost anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000 per day.

Running for Premature Babies was founded by legend, Sophie Smith and her late husband Ash after they lost their prematurely born triplets (Henry, Jasper and Evan) to complications after their premature birth in 2006.

When their babies were in hospital, Sophie and Ash realised that most of the machines that kept their boys alive were donated and learned that the hospital relies on fundraising for 70% of the equipment in the unit.

To date over 5,000 babies have directly benefitted from fundraising by the Running for Premature Babies Foundation and some of the very sickest babies may not have survived without it.

Portrait of newborn baby and hand inside incubator

The Reason

Life is beautiful and challenging

The more life experiences I collect, the better I understand the beauty and fragility of life. Life is bloody awesome but can also be very challenging. All the different shades are part of what makes being a human special.

Through my swim I am raising money for Running for Premature Babies – a cause that I’m passionate about through my own life experiences and the tangible impact that it has.

Quinn Darragh is a best friend who is attempting the Channel swim at the same time as me this year. Quinn and his wife Sheree’s son Ryder, was born at 27 weeks, weighing just 1kg. His life started by being resuscitated in the delivery room. The ventilator that helped Ryder breathe in those first crucial days and weeks was donated by Sophie’s charity. Our goal is to raise enough money to buy a ventilator for the Royal Hospital for Women NICU which is valued at $74 000. It is estimated a ventilator like this one would help over 600 critically ill babies.

I’m very fortunate to have three happy and healthy children, Cooper 12, Ava 10 and Darci 6, with my beautiful wife Jade. Everything I do is for my family and I draw inspiration from them every day. However, Quinn and I have close family and friends who haven’t been as fortunate and have lost babies before term or lost a child after birth. This has been heartbreaking and has left us feeling helpless. So together we decided to try and help this amazing cause.

You only live once!

I want to lie on my death bed and think, gee I gave it a crack. My purpose in life is to have a positive impact.

Exercise and movement are fundamentally important to wellness. As are purpose and service. My hope is that the swim and the ability to raise money for a cause that I really believe in, is positive role modelling for my kids, their friends and all of my team at work.

I’ve had my own challenges with co-founding and growing a professional services firm, EMM Consulting, at the same time as having a young family – trying to be the perfect person at work, husband, father and still get my training done etc. I put too much pressure on myself over a long period of time and thought I was going crazy for a while. Despite this I always kept moving forward and learnt how to best focus this drive.

Without having a swimming background, the swim provides a unique opportunity to prove that if you put in the effort and focus, anything is possible.


The Process

I’ve never been a great swimmer. I mean I can swim – but I hadn’t ever done a squad session until this year, never had a coach or learnt technique. A few years ago, when a friend told me he’d start his session with a 500m warm-up, I thought surely he was joking! So, on the physical side, I’m focussed on getting the kms under my belt, whilst at the same time, improving my technique.

At present I’m swimming between 25 and 30 kms per week. This is pretty bloody hard to fit in and is mostly done at strange times to enable me to focus at work and minimise impact on the family. It might be with the NezSwim squad at my son’s school Waverley College, or at Clovelly, Coogee or Bondi Beach.

I swam through last winter, sometimes in the dark, just in my speedos as preparation. If my speech was slurred, I knew I’d probably gone too long. In April this year, I’ll be doing the VladSwim cold camp in Victoria and will commence night swimming with VladSwim in the colder months. I hope to continue to improve my technique with SwimLab and Effortless Swimming.

My goal is to sustain between 50 and 60 km per week before we leave in early September.

On the mental side, beyond the long swims, I’ve always enjoyed ice baths – so that’s a win – and I’ve been meditating for the last 5 years, which definitely helps.

Learning about nutrition and how your body adapts under different circumstances, dry land sessions, recovery, injury management and prevention is very important. I’ll need to put on at least 5 kgs to help stay warm during the swim. Fortunately, the best way for me to put on weight is to drink beer. I’m very good at drinking beer so I’m confident in this space. I’ve also been making friends with bluebottles all around the eastern beaches. They seem to be attracted to me.

I’m very fortunate to have a network of inspirational friends whose advice and support will carry me long way to completing the Channel. Most importantly I have an extremely supportive wife who will be with me all of the way, literally.

How good is the process?

EMM20190726-108 Ben Williams Photography (2)

Thank you

Thanks so much for reading. We’d love you to follow our journey – we’ll be providing updates through this website and Instagram @luke_stewart1977

All money raised will go directly to the cost of a ventilator. There is no administration fee and all costs associated with the swim and raising money are being funded by Quinn and I.

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