Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The 11-year-old who swam the English Channel

At the end of last year I blogged about five news stories you don't get any more.

One of them was ever younger children swimming the channel:
Once skinny little figures shivering in goose grease appeared regularly in the news. Today you never see them. 
It turns out that the Channel Swimming Association imposed a minimum age of 16 years in 2000, which means that the record is likely to stay with Thomas Gregory, who made the crossing in 1988 aged 11 years and 336 days.
The other day BBC News published a feature on Thomas Gregory and his feat.

You can see why the age limit was imposed:
"When I reached the shore, I was a few notches off compos mentis," he says. "I was dazed, confused. I'd been in cold water for 12 hours, with a high rate of exertion. I'd been told you had to take three unaided steps after reaching land, otherwise you hadn't made it. But I couldn't stand up. I was on my knees. 
"Those steps became massively important. It was a Neil Armstrong moment. Eventually I did three steps, and I sat down. I remember being surrounded by people cuddling me."
Yet the hero of the interview is Gregory's coach:
"If John Bullet was alive today, he'd be getting Unsung Hero Award at the Sports Personality of the Year," says Tom. "He did countless relays of the Channel, and broke two world records, all with kids from a two-mile radius of Eltham Baths. It was incredible. But when John died, the club sort of died. It lived on thanks to some very selfless people, but my connection went. 
"This isn't false modesty, but the Channel swim wasn't about me. It was about the club. I was part of a movement, and I represented all of us. It only happened because of the courage and vision of John. I guess I was the lucky one who got the challenge." 
The crack-of-dawn starts, the hours in the pool, the weeks in Windermere, the cold showers, the open windows, the burn, the pain, the tears. Could any child enjoy that? 
"Oh yeah," Tom says, surprised at the question. "I loved it. That club changed people's lives."

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