Celebrity personal trainer and sports scientist Greg Whyte is celebrating his 50th birthday year by embarking on 50 swimming challenges
“I think I’m the first Brit to ever swim up a mountain,” says Professor Greg Whyte OBE, former Olympian and Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University. “I’ve just been down to the University of Portsmouth where I swam in a flume within an air chamber. The air was gradually altered to give the effect of constantly increasing the altitude so I started out at sea level and swam as the ‘altitude’ increased to around 2000m – technically swimming uphill all the way!”
This novel challenge is one of 50 that the celebrity trainer has chosen to undertake throughout 2017 in a bid to raise awareness for the work of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS.org.uk): “I’m going back to my swimming roots,” he explains.
Greg won European bronze and World Championship silver medals and represented Great Britain in the Modern Pentathlon in two Olympics, but he’s probably best known for training the likes of Davina McCall and David Walliams to complete gruelling challenges for Comic Relief.
“This time around I’m challenging myself, taking on some incredible, iconic swims across Europe through the summer and beyond.”
Along with the ‘uphill’ event Greg has a series of pool and open water swims planned in the UK, France, Italy and Majorca. As well as swimming in the “insane” Red Bull Neptune Steps event, “I’m also doing a number of races and I’ll be joined by Greg James, David (Walliams) and Davina among others along the way too.”
“The underlying message is to raise awareness for the need to provide better funding for swimming and to ensure the requirements of the National Curriculum to teach every child to swim are fully met.”
“I’m also keen to highlight how beneficial swimming, especially outdoor swimming, can be to fitness training and sporting performance. There’s a wealth of evidence to show how you can improve your all-round fitness levels, endurance, stamina and strength by regularly including swimming in your training programme.
Greg has also returned to competitive racing, with his local Wycombe District Swimming Club, which has created its own set of challenges too. “That’s really been tough. It’s been 17 years since I swam competitively and although I love the buzz it’s just a very different mentality to what I’ve been doing more recently.”
“With the celebrity challenges, like swimming the length of The Thames, you’re just aiming to complete the event ideally in one piece! But with the club events you’re looking to get best time and win races and you’re experiencing a different kind of pressure once more.”
Greg seems determined to show that age doesn’t matter and wants to highlight the benefits of swimming as a form of physical activity in general and educate people on the advantages of open water swimming.
He also wants to use the events to stress the issue of swimming inequality across the population. “Currently around 25% of the UK population is unable to swim. When you break them down the figures are scary. That’s around nine million adults and more worryingly 40% of children leave primary school at 11 years old not having learnt to swim properly – and yet drowning remains the number one cause of accidental death in children.”
“Although the National Curriculum sets out the need for swimming to be taught, there are issues around funding, access to pools and the manpower to take children swimming which means that the promise is not being delivered. When you consider that no-one in the UK lives more than 70 miles from the sea and that one person drowns every 20 hours you realise how important it is to make learning to swim a priority.”
Through a social media campaign Greg is hoping support for the event will snowball. But from a personal level, being back in the water is proving to be rewarding in itself. “I guess it’s that seminal age, turning 50, I’d forgotten to an extent the thrill that swimming, especially competitively against others or against goals you’ve set yourself, can bring.”
“Being back in the ‘blue gym’ as I call it involves doing some tough sessions, it can be brutal at times but I’d missed that apprehension and the tactics you adopt to channel anxiety into something that can aid your efforts.”
“It’s invigorating. The challenges
I’m doing are to some extent stressful but what changes them into problem ones is how you cope with it. You find that you cope better with experience and that you understand yourself and your body better the more you train. And when it all comes together I get that ‘high’.” Especially after he’s swum up a mountain.
For more info on where Greg is swimming see #50@50 or gregwhyte.com