Maureen McCoy Photos by Paul McCambridge
Standing on the shore about to start the longest and toughest swim of his career so far in the early hours of the morning 2nd August 2021, Jordan began to feel a sense of panic rising. This was a huge undertaking had he done the training needed? He focused on his breathing to calm down, of course he was well prepared.
For the first 2 hours of the swim those waves of anxiety would continue to wash over him. Every channel swimmer has doubt sometime during their swim, it’s how they deal with it that counts. Jordans success stems from not only his swimming talent but also his work ethic; “You have to put in the work – dedication and believe in yourself. It helps when others believe in you too.”
After those first few hours he moved into a kind of “dream state…where I don’t really know the passage of time…” In saying that he still had tough times during this record-breaking swim, after those first hours and the waves of panic subsided, he still had doubts.
“I remember thinking, what could I do that would make me quit but wouldn’t look like I’d quit?… But you have to overcome the dark part of your mind and push through.”
What prompts a swimmer to take on a channel swim, particularly the North Channel, renowned for its cold waters, notorious lions mane jellyfish and fickle weather conditions?
For Jordan the seed was sewn when he jumped into Lough Neagh and swam with both Chris Judge, NC soloist and Francie McAlinden, Global Swim Series winner. With Jordans own philosophy of “Train to be as good as the friends you’re with…” it was inevitable he’d do something extraordinary.
This philosophy he began to develop in his early days as a young competitive swimmer. At age 11 and 12, swimming first for Portadown Swimming Club and then Lurgan Club, he found himself repeatedly placing second or third. Beaten in races by his friends he didn’t let that dishearten him and kept working. That work was to pay off when he was 13/14 and started winning. Although swimming was his first sport, a stint at boxing in his teens certainly helped further develop this ability to focus and train hard. “Boxing requires great brain-muscle co-ordination, it’s whole body training.”
He soon qualified for Divison1 swim races and at age 16/17 was winning Div1 and competing at internationals. As a Breaststroke 100m/200m and Butterfly 50m/100m swimmer Jordan was a sprinter;
“I was never a Freestyler, I think I once did a 1500m, when I was about 14!” How things change.
Swimming took a back seat during A levels and University days; “it was hard to do A levels and train 20 hours a week…” and then, “I was enjoying University life in Manchester…”
Returning to Queens to finish his Zoology degree, Jordan took up competitive swimming again, helping Lurgan club out at PTLs. Once again, he was finishing second and third, so he started to train with those faster swimmers.
“It helps to go back to 2nd and 3rd place, it teaches you how to cope and hones your skills…”
With an easy smile and this positive attitude, it’s not hard to see why Jordan was welcomed by other clubs to join in some their training sessions while continuing to work with his own coach, Dorothy, and competing for the home club, Lurgan.
His first open water race was ‘Round the Rock’ a 1500m sea swim in Warrenpoint which he won, so he knew he had the knack! Jordan then went on to win the 2020 Global Swim Series and feeling fit, with all that training in the bank so to speak so why not sign up with Infinity Channel swimming for the North Channel?
Winter training in a small pool in his garage (given to him by Daniel Wiffen) a bungee cord tethered to the wall and almost freezing water, paid dividends. It was lonely and cold but that’s what to expect for the North Channel. Come the summer and longer swims in Lough Neagh during the height of the heat-wave he found he would get too warm;
“When temps get around 19°C I get too hot, I start looking for cold spots. Sometimes I’d un-clip my tow-float and dive underwater and just lie there in the depths to cool off!” He was well prepared for the cooler conditions of the North Channel.
What about those dreaded Jellies? Well, although the infinity crew didn’t see them, Jordan saw plenty; “Seeing jellies beneath me was like seeing a whole new world as they splayed out looking for food…” But he was extremely lucky getting stung only once, on his toe. He discovered the venomous barb the next day.
Another encounter was with a large Barrel jelly, a solid great beast, he felt the buoyancy of it against his chest as he swam over it. There’s not that much of the swim he remembers, it all just moulds into one. Watching the videos he’s not even sure if he truly remembers the swim or the fact that he’s seen the footage.
He jokes; “Perhaps like a Dolphin half my brain can sleep while the other half stays awake!”
Breaking the North Channel record was never Jordans goal, indeed he didn’t know why he was being pushed to swim harder over the last few kilometres nearing Scotland;
“I thought I had been in about 11 hours, I tried to swim hard but my arms were tired so I slowed again. When I got to the rocks I climbed out but I couldn’t stand, your legs don’t really work after a long swim, so I just sat there. On the boat they were celebrating and blowing the horn. People on the cliff above were cheering and clapping. I don’t think they knew what had happened, but they knew it was something big!”
What is the fuel of a record-breaking North Channel swimmer? Copious amounts of Complan and thickly buttered strawberry jam sandwiches, made by mum! “…with the bread, the butter and the jam all the same thickness!”
Jordan Leckey broke Michelle Macy’s 8-year North Channel record by almost 25 minutes but he doesn’t want to hold it for long;
“Records are there to be broken. Hopefully someone will give me a reason to get back in and break 9 hours.”
Meanwhile he has plenty more plans for swims so watch this space.
Mo talks to Jordan about his North Channel swim
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