Imperial MBA Student Swims The English Channel — For A Good Cause

Jack Blyzinskyj: “For as long as I can remember, swimming has given me purpose.” When he called four of his closest friends, they immediately agreed to swim the English Channel together.

While getting his MBA at Imperial College London in mid-January, Jack Blyzinskyj also regularly took the plunge into the frigid parts of the River Thames.

There was method to the madness. Blyzinskyj was using cold-water immersion to prepare for the hypothermic shock that would eventually set in when he and four other thoroughbred swimmers completed a swim across the English Channel.

The team braved the ambiguous, choppy oceanwaters between Britain to France for just under 11 hours. The entire journey began around five in the morning alongside a crew of doctors, film producers and a pilot. The weather was horrible. Visibility was nil. And the water was just plain freezing. But Blyzinskyj had spent over a year planning for that day in mid-June when they jumped in at Dover. His idea developed at the onset of February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

HIS ‘LOUDEST VOICE’

At the time of the invasion, Blyzinskyj was living and working in San Francisco, and he began asking himself, “What’s my place in all this?” His father’s family comes from the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, and he didn’t want to see his heritage eradicated. At the age of fourteen his grandfather fled his war-stricken country. He sought protection at a refugee camp, and Blyzinskyj vows that he and his family wouldn’t be here without refugee camps in the 1940s.

Blyzinskyj, a sprint-distance swimmer during his college career at the University of Florida, knew he needed to be involved.

“For me, I was like, ‘What is my loudest voice?’” he tells P&Q in an interview.

The swim he ultimately decided to complete for charity is often referred to as the Mount Everest of swimming; It’s an extreme sport that comes with an array of threats from hypothermia to unpredictable weather to ship traffic. Because persisting tides often dictate swimmers’ course, Blyzinskyj and his team managed to swim nearly 1.5 times the length of Channel, around 55,000 meters, and yet despite tumult, they raised over $170,000 for charities supporting Ukrainian refugees.

METEr-BY-METER CHALLENGE: NOT JUST A TOUGH SWIM

The swim occurred on a Monday. By Wednesday, Blyzinskyj was back in an Imperial Hall taking a final exam. He will graduate from Imperial’s one-year MBA program in September. In the midst of planning and training for the toughest swim of his life, arguably on planet earth, he has attended classes during weekdays, weeknights and most weekends.

The first six months of the program focused on, Blyzinskyj says, “really grinding out your core classes” and “where it is almost no daylight” learning everything from strategy and innovation, financial accounting, business analytics, and marketing. Blyzinskyj notes from the start he sought a one-year program, because being out of work for any longer didn’t suit him.

The latter half of Imperial’s MBA program focuses more on extensive project work. For his, Blyzinskyj journeyed down the entrepreneurial route and his group created a business to allocate green grants to UK businesses, using artificial intelligence to match the two together. And, of course, orchestrating the swim was a huge project that took massive effort and commitment on top of his schoolwork.

“I joke I was a first-time founder during my MBA because I was going around London fundraising from everyone under the sun,” he says.

Funds from the Meter-by-Meter challenge, aiming to raise £10 for every meter, go toward supporting three charities in three different countries, as well as raising money for cancer. Imperial’s Sanctuary Support Fund creates scholarships for people displaced by war. Another charity called Solidarité Ukraine that’s run by Mary Meaney, a board member of the Imperial College Council and a former senior partner at McKinsey and Company. The French non-profit, based out of Saint-Omer in northern France, houses Ukrainian refugees and provides resources that help them enter into society.

The U.S. charity the team also chose called RememberUS provides direct aid to those in warzones in Ukraine. Well in advance of the swim, Blyzinskyj, a U.S.-U.K. dual citizen, spent significant time trying to fundraise through the corporate world in both London and the states.

“In doing that, we met all their Ukrainian employees. People would come up to us right after our speeches and just talk to us about their families and experiences, and what they were doing for the cause. It really became a big community,” Blyzinskyj says.

REMAINING POSTIVE, FOCUSED & RESILIENT

The swim required tackling an arduous process of obtaining all the correct team permits from multiple associations, including paperwork like Border Patrol sponsorships. And well before exploring this, Blyzinksi first placed calls to four of his close friends from his swimming past, asking whether they’d have interested in the long haul. Blyzinskyj says: “They immediately bought in.” Blyzinskyj himself is a 11-time All-American and Olympic trials finalist.

Also achieving the Channel was Harrison Haines, a former University of Florida swimmer and Australian National Team member, Dan Wallace, a Team Great Britain Olympic Silver Medalist and Commonwealth Champion, Ross McWhirter, a Scottish and Great Britain Triathlete, and Jordan Dunn, a Scottish National Team member.

According to the Channel Swimming Association, there’s been 2,823 success swims in 148 years, 45 of which have taken place in 2023. The entire journey is targeted to be about 33,000 meters or the equivalent of 21 miles, but the pace and distance of the trek is dependent on the weather.

“I was really shocked when we found out how far we actually swam. We knew we were getting pushed, but we were trying to stay as focused and as positive as we could to be resilient enough,” Blyzinskyj says.

In fact, he says its learning resiliency through swimming that has taught him a lot about getting an MBA. Blyzinskyj has the mentality that you don’t have to be the best every day, but rather it’s about showing up consistently day-after-day.

“I think for anyone who has a specific cause they’re really involved in, you can find a voice to impact it even if you are not directly associated with the event,” Blyzinskyj says.

A DIVERSE NETWORK OF CAREER MINDS AT IMPERIAL

Prior to his getting his MBA, Blyzinskyj worked at CrowdStrike, IBM and Google. He spent five years in Silicon Valley executing go-to-market strategies for large or emerging tech companies. Understanding commercialization and the products came easy, but it was knowing the financial acumen behind valuations and capitalizations that proved harder.

“Going back to getting an MBA for me was about rounding myself out on a financial sense and getting access to international markets,” Blyzinskyj says.

He says he chose Imperial for its detailed concentration on financial coursework and its network of “impressive” faculty and student body. So far, he says, it’s really paid off.

“The great part about being at Imperial was the breadth of people at the MBA program I got to work with, it was outstanding,” he says.

When Blyzinskyj needed some legal advice about the swim, a classmate who had a law background helped. Members of his cohort included frontline reporters for publishers like the BBC and The Financial Times and provided different advice on media exposure.

“I’m still leaving an MBA with a huge amount of professional gaps that I can’t do right now. For example, if you asked me to write a legal contract, I wouldn’t know where to start. But I do now know a great place of people who can help you get there,” Blyzinskyj says.

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