Swimming record in the Baltic Sea – an interview with an extraordinary man

Bałtyk

On September 16, 2023. Dane Henry Stokholm (age 54) swam from Kolobrzeg to the island of Bornholm. He accomplished this wearing only swim trunks and a cap. Without the glare and attention of reporters. This is an unprecedented event in history. The aforementioned 94-kilometer section was previously sailed by Sebastian Karas. At the time, however, he was dressed in a neoprene suit to increase buoyancy and provide thermal protection. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest swimming event in the history of the Baltic. Covering this route in pure swimming has been a dream of Poles for decades. Henry is interviewed by Leszek Naziemiec.

Leszek Naziemiec: What does your swimming path look like? What were your previous achievements?

Henry Stokholm: I have been swimming all my life. I started when I was a year old. I went to my first competition at the age of 7 or 8. I was a competitive swimmer until I was about 25 and participated in the Danish national championships. Then, in addition to my “normal” job, I became a trainer. I stopped swimming because my shoulder hurt during a hard workout.

Over the next few years, I gained a little weight and sometimes gathered in myself to lose weight, but the scale quickly returned to too high. In January 2010. My father died and I promised myself that I would never be in bad shape again. Because of this sore shoulder, I decided to focus on running and it was going quite well. Until my knee started hurting in turn. I went back to swimming, but my shoulder was sore….

In 2018, I swam in the Vidöstern Simmet competition – more than 21 km without the use of a neoprene wetsuit, and won with a half-hour advantage over the second-placed swimmer. It can be considered that I became addicted to swimming in open water without a foam. I also won the 2019 Vidöstern Simmet, but suffered a shoulder injury. When the shoulder healed, I didn’t stop open water swimming, and I added winter/ice swimming and won the Danish Championships in this category in January 2020. – Just before the pandemic.

The Vidöstern Simmet competition was canceled in 2020, but my friend Per Fossette Møller and I needed long training sessions, so we crossed the Storebælt (Great Belt) between Funen and Zealand in Denmark – 22 km. After this crossing we both had shoulder problems, but we wanted to keep swimming. On the last day of December 2020, we decided that the following year we would like to sail from Jutland to the island of Anholt, so 45 km. So we had to figure out how to solve our shoulder problems in order to swim. We discovered that the most effective way is to hang from a bar for 5-15 minutes a day (with breaks).

In 2021, I swam the Vidöstern Simmet in ten days, won the Danish 10 km open water championship and won my age group, and the following Tuesday, August 24, 2021, I swam from Fornæs fyr to Anholt (45 km) in 16 hours 45 minutes. Per, then 63 years old, swam the first 33 km with me. It was a wonderful experience. Later my friend reminded me that the next day I had the idea to sail between Bornholm and Poland. In 2022 I swam the foamless “Viking edition” of the Vidöstern Simmet (twice 42 km) – in preparation for the trip to the Bornholm-Poland crossing.

L.N.: How do you live close to the North Sea? Do you train in it? From a swimmer ‘s point of view, do you see a difference between the Baltic and North Seas?

H.S.: It is very nice to swim in the North Sea. It is much saltier than the Baltic, which tastes almost like fresh water. In Esbjerg, where I live, there are significant tides (the difference between high and low tide is 1.5-2 meters), so I mostly swim downstream and walk/run the other way. The water is sometimes cloudy. I also swim a lot in the marina, where a lot of water sports are practiced. There it is easier to do interval training at fixed distances, etc.

L.N. : How did you prepare for the crossing?

H.S.: I have been training in a very structured way for the past 10 months. I swam the night edition of the Vidöstern Simmet 2022 to try swimming in the dark. I swam in the 2023 “DK Tribal Belt Challenge One-Day” to prepare for sleepiness during the attempt. From four in the morning to one in the morning – 40 km in 14 hours. I also did 58 km in two days in Gudenåen, in cold weather. I wore a neoprene wetsuit only once, during a longer swim in February or March – I don’t remember exactly. I also swim in the pool to do a training routine and see if my pace improves.

L.N.: Who became part of your team?

H.S.: My team was excellent. I had two captains-professionals. The three-person support team consisted of swimmers very experienced in open water. I couldn’t think of a more professional team than them. They wanted me to succeed, they also took care of me medically, made sure everything was okay with me.

L.N.: What kind of ship was belaying you?

H.S.: It was a boat by the great Kim Finne, designed for rod fishing. This is the captain I can recommend!

Wodne Sprawy 27 2023
Swimming record in the Baltic Sea - an interview with an extraordinary man 1

L.N.: What was the water temperature and what was the tide? I remember that by the island of Wolin, where I live, it was flat. Did you wait a long time for the right conditions? Did you swim at a steady pace? What did you eat and drink? How was it administered to you?

H.S.: The weather was very good for the first 10 hours. On Friday evening there was a light wind and the waves were small. The water temperature oscillated between 18.9-20.3°C, with the first kilometers at around 18.2°C. On Saturday evening, conditions were quite poor for swimming. If I had kept the same pace as the first 14 hours, I would have finished at 12:00 on Saturday, but the currents were against me. For the past 24 hours, I’ve been shivering from the cold, causing me to lose strength in my muscles, so the swim has extended an additional 10 hours. In an hour, due to the current, I was only doing 1,200 meters.

I ate a lot of different things: gels, energy bars, müsli bars, energy drinks, tablets with mineral salts and Vespa (to optimize fat metabolism). I also ate a grilled sausage – it was very tasty, a nice change after all those sugars. I drank coffee and coca cola. Meals were served to me in a bucket on a stick.

I started sailing in Kolobrzeg on Friday, September 15, at 8:25 a.m. and finished at 10:25 p.m. on Saturday, September 16. In a straight line it was 94.2 kilometers, and the GPS tracked 96.15 kilometers.

L.N.: Would you share your personal thoughts on swimming in this challenge? Have you had crises?

H.S.: Actually, I had a crisis for the last 24 hours because I was freezing, but I’m used to freezing because of swimming in “ice”. But when the current was very much against me and I still had 10-12 hours left, I made a choice: instead of doing the easy thing, I decided to make an effort. Of course, it was worth it. The captain also gave a good motivational speech. The crossing was a very cool and crazy experience. I have never experienced anything more powerful in my life – except maybe the birth of my children. I will forever keep this swimming in my heart! All the support from everywhere – including from New Skanpol.dk and Jarek Witkowski.

L.N.: What do you do if you are not swimming?

H.S.: I work with Microsoft Dynamics Business Central as co-owner of the IT company eliteit.dk. I have 2 children and want to move even closer to the sea! I just love swimming!

L.N.: What is access to water like in Denmark? Can you swim anywhere, at your own risk, or are there restrictions?

H.S.: There are very few restrictions under some bridges with heavy traffic (the Great Belt Bridge and the bridge over the Oresund). Beyond that, there is a lot of freedom.

L.N.: Are the Danes a nation with a swimming culture? Do they like to swim?

H.S.: We like swimming very much, and the interest in swimming in Denmark is growing almost exponentially. Especially open water and winter swimming.

L.N.: Have you already been to Poland?

H.S.: I was in Glogow 2022. At the World Ice Swimming Championships, where I won 6 silver medals, and the winner of the competition in my category was a very good Polish swimmer Marek Rother.

I am still extremely grateful for all the support I have received. I can’t express it enough!

L.N.: Let me congratulate you on behalf of the editors of Water Matters and the entire swimming community in my country. Your feat will be remembered in Poland and will always be a reference for us again!

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