Swimming Events Guide 2024

Veteran British swimmer takes the plunge again

Distance swimmer and marine biologist Nigel Downing (71) is taking on his second long-distance fundraising challenge in aid of aviation charity Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), after becoming the oldest Briton to complete the Strait of Gibraltar in 2015 at the age of 64.

Training has begun for the 2022 endurance event, which will take place in late September, when Nigel will attempt to swim the Strait of Bonifacio, a stretch between the southern coast of Corsica and northern Sardinia. The crossing has been described as ‘one of the greatest challenges for open water swimmers in recent years’ by event organisers Neda el Món and varies between 13 and 15km depending on the current and chosen route.

Grouped with a pod of three others based on speed and experience, Nigel will attempt the swim any day from 26 September 2022 – depending on wind, waves current, and weather conditions. It will be the longest distance Nigel has swum since completing the Strait of Gibraltar, where he raised £5,500 for MAF. Based on the 4 hours 36 minutes it took Nigel to swim the 18km waterway in 2015 – Nigel hopes to complete the Strait of Bonifacio distance in under five hours.

Image: Nigel crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 2015
Image: Nigel crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 2015

Unlike English Channel swimmers – who must wear sleeveless, legless costumes that offer no thermal protection or buoyancy to officially complete the 32km distance between Dover and Calais – Nigel prefers to swim in a wetsuit for warmth and protection. “I confess, cold water is now my weakness,” he says. “There’s nothing like the warm, crystal-clarity of the Indian Ocean or Mediterranean Sea – where I feel like I could swim forever. I love to flow through the water and enjoy all the beauty of the marine life around me.”

Having recently begun his training for the September challenge at an indoor pool near his home in Henley-on-Thames, Nigel admits to feeling nervous, but couldn’t resist the challenge set by a friend who swam the Strait of Gibraltar with him.

Nigel said, “I will be seven years older, so it will all come down to the way I train – but I’m nervous, I don’t want to let anyone down! I want to feel easy before hitting the water, so I’m getting up to 10km in the pool every week and will build on that through the summer in open water. I’ve committed to this – so I can’t back out now! And of course, I want to raise even more money this time.”

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