I think I learnt to swim when I was about four or five, I couldn’t tell you for sure. I do remember waiting for a bus to pick a bunch of us nippers up at the end of St Johns road, not far from my childhood home. I’m not sure where the bus took us exactly and I’ve never managed to find that pool again, despite looking in the years since. It turns out that my now sister-in-law also learnt to swim with me but she can’t remember either.
All I know is that I stopped swimming and left the swimming club at some point during primary school and did not return to swimming in a big way until I was about fifteen. I joined Exmouth Swimming and Life Saving Society (ES&LSS) and found within about six months that I had taken all of the club records for the open age group, except the backstroke (I still hate backstroke now). Given the amount of time I was spending in the pool at the time it made sense to me that I become a lifeguard at the sports center. I was earning and swimming every day and life was good.
It was not until competing in the ASA Devon County championships that I went under a minute for 100m freestyle, you never forget that day as a young swimmer. Progress beyond that though was really hard work and very slow going, it was not long before younger, faster swimmers were beating me and I was looking for something more rewarding on which to expend my energy.
I found what I was looking for in the game of Water polo, I love this sport and will return to it, maybe next year. I learnt my trade playing for Exmouth, determined to break into the senior team, and rarely winning a game but enjoying the experience non the less. It took a year or so before I started training at Newton Abbot, they had a National League team and my progress was rapid. It was not long before I was playing in the Bristol and District and National Leagues with Newton Abbot and whilst at University for Reading in Division One of the National League and for the Berkshire County side. A short spell playing for Bedford in the National League followed and I was selected for the Bedfordshire County team but when I moved to south London I found myself playing more socially in the local and London leagues for Penguins and latterly for Crawley at the amazing K2 Leisure Centre, although not with the same vigor as in my younger years.
It was at some point during my transition from swimming to Waterpolo that I dipped my toe in the open water swimming scene. A fellow swimmer, Waterloo player and now dear friend suggested doing an English Channel Relay to celebrate the centenary year of our swimming club. I was keen to take part and started training for the challenge.We spent many happy hours swimming at Budleigh beach and regularly took part in the Starcross Swim, a swim organised by the ES&LSS for its members as an introduction to open water swimming, only 1.75 miles in length down the Exe estuary, but finishing opposite the clock tower on Exmouth sea front. I also had my first experience of the BLDSA (British Long Distance Swimming Association) when I took part in an affiliated swim in Exmouth called the Fairway Buoy swim. The swim was about 4.5 miles and was tidal in nature, I even won a Trophy for first Exmouth swimmer home one year. I remember swimming against some amazing open water swimmers back then, the King of the Channel amongst them. This Fairway Buoy swim has morphed in recent times due to the changing shape of the beach and sandbar and last year the swim was renamed the Exe to Exe swim and has a completely new course.
We successfully completed our channel relay in 1993 in a time of 10hrs 23mins and following that several members of the team worked hard to complete their own solo channel swims with the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), I crewed for the first of them on the Viking Princess back in 1994 and I always believed I would join them in that feat, but life and work took over. I met my beautiful wife and my three lively daughters followed in subsequent years.
Three years ago my life changed…
One evening and a phone call to my wife from an old friend of mine ended in a snap decision to finally get off my arse and swim the English Channel….
I don’t believe my wife really understood what that would mean in terms of sacrifice and I realised very quickly that I was not the swimmer I once was…