June 22, 2018
Differently- abled men swim from Hamilton to Lower Bay

by Katherine Renton

Last Saturday, two differently-abled men swapped their wheelchairs for snorkels and swam the distance from the Yatch Club in Hamilton, Bequia to De Reef at Lower Bay.

Google Maps says the distance by road is 3.1 km; the route by sea is estimated to be a little less.

The feat was envisioned by Mark Farrell, who has been in a wheelchair for 25 years, and is Vincentian born, but lives in Toronto, Canada.

Mark Farrell

“I was shot three times in my back when I was 19, one hit my spine, leaving me in a wheelchair, or leaving me to use a wheelchair I should say,” Farrell explained in a phone interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Monday.

His new found friend, Ali Baptiste, who sells jewellery at the market in Bequia, and who also uses a wheelchair, decided a week before the big swim, that he would be joining Farrell. Farrell indicates that Baptiste sustained his injuries by a vehicular accident, but admits that he hasn’t asked about it further, “I think when you have an injury, and somebody has the same injury, you kinda know what each other have to go through, so asking about the injury itself doesn’t really matter.”

For Farrell, the swim had nothing to do with proving anything to anyone, but fulfilling his own goal, which is “I hope this would encourage other people that are not disabled but differently-abled to get out and live life, and don’t worry about people and what they have to say.”

Farrell says that as a Pisces he has always loved the water, and is drawn to it, but cannot swim in the lakes in Canada.

Mark Farrell in the water during his swim from the Yacht Club in Hamilton, Bequia to Lower Bay, last Saturday.

The 44-year-old had no misconceptions about the magnitude of the task that he was about to undertake, and he agreed, “It’s definitely a difficult swim, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer, and if you’re not strong enough to fight the current…there are people, able bodied people that say to me ‘I couldn’t make that and I’m walking’, so I’m just telling them, well if you think that then you’ll never make it. In life…it’s mind over matter.”

Therefore, with that mindset, shortly before two o’clock last Saturday, June 16, Farrell and Baptiste took to the waves, with an entourage of family and friends behind them in boats and kayaks.

“Starting from Trade Winds, that part was easy, but once you got out into the middle of the channel you had a very strong current pulling you out at one point, and at the next point it was pushing you back in, and then it would pull you back out, and…I swam on my back all the way across, it’s more comfortable for me to swim that way and I had a snorkel on, so when boats went by, I had to keep blowing water out of my airway so I could breathe properly and I took just under an hour to complete it,” Farrell described.

Mark Farrell and Ali Baptiste swam from Hamilton to Lower Bay in Bequia – a distance of about 3 km (the route is indicated by the yellow dots). Both men do not have the use of their legs.

Never giving up, the trip was not without its moment of discouragement, “At one point I turned on my stomach, to try swimming that way, and keeping my head down I went off course a bit and when I lifted my head I saw I was headed in the wrong direction… and then it was a moment to say ‘Oh boy, now I have to make the trek back.’”

Shaking it off, the determined man thought, “I said, in my mind, I’ve been looking at the water for weeks and thinking to myself where I was gonna start from, and once I figured out where I was gonna start from it was already in my mind, I already completed it. There was no second guessing myself, it was just about, just completing it.”

“When we got over to Lower Bay, it was a great feeling, we sat there, we had a few laughs, it wasn’t much time, jump in the boat, back over to tradewinds, came back over to the house and cook some food,” he revealed. Baptiste was also excited about the swim and what he saw, including turtles and fish, his companion disclosed.

While there were naysayers, Farrell describing an interaction as someone asking “You could make that?”, him replying “Yeah”, and them saying, “Good Luck”, but “from the good luck you could hear there was a little sarcasm behind it.”

However, he reiterated that it was not about proving anything to anyone, that it was for himself, and said that he did not doubt himself “not for a second.”

The event, dubbed, ‘Swim Bequia – life without limits’ may likely become an annual event, Farrell stating that he likes the idea of having it around Easter time.

‘Swim Bequia’ went live on Facebook on Farrell’s profile, and up to the point of the interview had 964 views.