Russell now realising scale of his ice-cold Channel challenge

Russell Nimmo who is attempting to swim across The Channel.
Russell Nimmo who is attempting to swim across The Channel.

DUNS student Russell Nimmo is poised to take on the biggest challenge of his life - to swim across the English Channel.

Duns RFC member Russell will tackle the fund-raising swim to France during the next week as part of a five-man relay team.

The 20-year-old is currently on stand-by in Dover, awaiting the go-ahead to plunge into the icy waters of the Channel.

“We’re just waiting for a call from the man in charge,” Russell told The Berwickshire News. “We have a ten-day window in which we can do it and we’ll be starting in the middle of the night in order for the tides to be right. We’re waiting for the right conditions, and we’re hoping for some calm water as well.

“The nerves are kicking in now,” he admitted. “The challenge is not only the swimming part, but also the ability to swim in the open water and deal with the cold. And it’s the busiest shipping lane in the world!”

Russell, a student at Newcaslte University, is attempting the gruelling 22-mile challenge with friends Harry Barker, Geordie Erskine, Renwick Drysdale and Angus Barge.

He explained: “We’ll be doing one hour on then four hours off - the hardest thing about that is the body temperature rising and dropping.”

The team have been on stand-by in Dover since yesterday (Wednesday), following 18 months of intense training which culminated in a non-stop qualifying sea swim a fortnight ago. “We went down to Dover and had to swim in the water for two and a half hours - it was probably the coldest swim yet!” Russell said. “It shows you just how hard it’s going to be.”

A former member of Duns Amateur Swimming Club, Russell hasn’t swam competitively since he was 13 except for school racing, but he discovered the training of Duns coaches George and Joyce Waddell soon came back to him as he immersed himself in the rigorous schedule.

“There were some weaker swimmers to begin with but we’ve pushed each other on and we’re all at a reasonable standard now,” he said.

For the last six months the students have been swam five days a week with a cold water swim every weekend. Over the last month they’ve upped the ante to get a swim in every day.

As well as Duns RFC, Russell also plays for two University teams, and says training for the Channel challenge has improved his general fitness level.

Supervised by their coach Harry Barker, who has swam the Channel himself, training has included hours in the pool as well as several swims at Dover, the West coast of Scotland and the North Sea, in winter, at Newcastle and Berwick. With wet suits not allowed, their main issue was dealing with the cold. And although he has done lots of fresh water swimming as part of the preparations, Russell says getting into the sea doesn’t get any easier.

“I kind of like to get in quick and get my head in, but it’s still the same shock every time you do it,” he said. “The cold hits you for the first ten seconds, but the difference now is that mentally we know we can do it. We’ve done lots of cold water swimming, including in the River Tweed - we have had some funny looks from some people!”

Despite all their pool preparation, their first swim at Dover was a shock to the system. “We all took cramp and our legs folded as we tried to walk out of the sea,” Russell said. “The cold really is the main problem. And also dealing with the currents,” he added.

The Channel is 22 miles across, but taking the currents into account the boys could swim up to 27 miles to reach the other side. “We’re thinking we’ll be around 17 to 20 hours in the water, depending on the current and where we land in France,” says Russell , but there won’t be a celebration party waiting for the at the end..

“No one else will be there as no one can know exactly where we’ll land,” he said. “We’ll probably have our own little celebration on the beach, then get in the boat and go back!” The team will be assisted on the boat by Ben Warcup of Duddo. “We have a safety boat but at no time are we allowed to touch this whilst swimming,” Russell explained.

The students are swimming on behalf of three charities which they say are close to their hearts: Marie Curie; The Sandpiper Trust, which provides doctors in rural Scotland with emergency equipment to help in vital situations; and The Henry Fraser Trust, which helps people with spinal injuries. They have been raising money for these charities whilst preparing for the swim, and in February they held a very successful Ball and auction in St James’s Park Function suit, which was attended by more than 500 people, including many from Berwickshire, and raised an impressive £10,000.

For more information or to sponsor the team, go to www.chanelswim2011.co.uk