Racing the tide: an epic 62-mile swim around the Isle of Wight

An Army Neurosurgeon and Major are undertaking a non-stop 62-mile swim around the Isle of Wight, racing the summer tide to raise money for research into paralysis and to help military and emergency personnel transition back to civilian life. 

David is raising money for life changing research into paralysis.

More people have set foot on the moon than have completed a non-stop swim around the Isle of Wight (IOW). This is the scale of the challenge facing military neurosurgeon Lt Col David Baxter and his fellow army officer Major Jessica French as they seek to become only the sixth and seventh people to successfully complete the 62-mile open water swim.

Depending on weather and tide conditions, the two friends will be setting off from Bembridge on the IOW between 28-31 August 2022, battling against the largest tide of the year, which can measure up to 4.5 knots per hour.

David and Jessica will be each swimming up to 32 hours in order to raise money for two separate charities: Spinal Research who fund research into paralysis and REORG, a charity focused on supporting service personnel and veterans from across all arms of the armed forces and emergency services. 

A lockdown project

The inspiration for the challenge came during lockdown when Jessica and David began open water swimming together. Training became their ‘club’ during the pandemic, with Jessica living on her own for the first time, while David’s regular work stopped to allow him to support the battle against Covid-19. Swimming together became a vital source of mental wellbeing for them both, and the challenge became an opportunity to raise funds for charities close to their heart.

“Every four hours someone in the UK is paralysed due to an injury to their spinal cord,” says David, explaining why they chose to support Spinal Research. “This can happen to anyone, at any age and is life changing for the individual and their family. Recent research has made major breakthroughs in our understanding of spinal cord biology over the last 30 years, and I’ve seen first-hand the potential for new treatments which could help restore movement and sensation for those living with paralysis today.”

Major Jessica French is raising funds for ex-military and emergency services personnel.

Army Education Officer, Major Jessica French is particularly passionate about improving the lives for ex-military and emergency personnel and will be raising money for REORG. “I’m supporting Reorg because the challenges of frontline duty can leave military, personnel and first responders facing severe mental and physical difficulties,” says Jessica. “Problems often get worse once they leave the service and no longer have the camaraderie and support of colleagues and consistency of day-to-day duties.”

REORG’s mission is to provide a platform for service personnel (current and former) to learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu and reconnect with fitness. “They work with people who have a whole range of serious, life-altering physical injuries, as well as those suffering debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or anyone that needs support,” says Jessica.

You can follow the team’s progress on the Racing the Tide website, and make donations via their Justgiving page. Find out more about Jessica and David, follow their training regime and learn more about their chosen charities via their Instagram.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.