Nothing was going to stop Dean Owen from swimming the length of Lough Neagh on Saturday in aid of an appeal to help a young boy walk.
Dean, who walks with the aid of crutches, set himself the 19.7 mile challenge after reading the story of Caleb Kerr, a four-year-old from Portadown with cerebral palsy whose family are spearheading a campaign to get him back on his feet.
On Saturday, with the family’s blessing, Dean dived into the lough at Massereene at 4.30am. He’d aimed to finish at Maghery at 1.30pm, but adverse weather conditions put paid to his nine-hour plan.
Dean, who can’t use his legs after suffering a broken back in a car accident, said, “The wind changed about five hours in which had a detrimental effect. It took 14 and a half hours instead of nine but the main thing is it was completed.”
The swimmer was followed by a speed boat, safety boat and five people in kayaks.
He told how he paced himself for the endurance test, “I stopped after the hour, then every thirty minutes. I was treading water until I was ready to swim again.”
Halfway through the swim as he battled the waves, Caleb went out in a boat with his father Nigel to spur Dean on.
Dean commented,“Seeing Caleb gave me a real lift and reminded me why I was doing it.”
He was given another lift when his sons came out to meet him. Dean said, “Ryan and James swam out and joined me for the last mile which was a nice boost.”
Despite the later than expected finish there was a sizeable crowd waiting for Dean at Maghery Country Park.
“I’m the only person ever to do this,” he said. “35 years ago somebody tried but they had to be pulled out after 10 miles.”
Dean thanked the safety crew who followed him along the route and those who pledged money to Caleb, who needs £70,000 for a spinal operation.
Dean’s swim alone has raised £4,140 to date. To help the fundraising go to justgiving.com/calebswim2walk