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.

Former Longridge Towers pupil Russell Nimmo is poised to take on the biggest challenge of his life – to swim across the English Channel.

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 said. “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. It’s the busiest shipping lane in the world.”

Russell, a second year student at Newcastle University who hails from Duns, 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.”

They will be assisted by Ben Warcup of Duddo on the safety boat. 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 keen rugby player, and a former member of Duns Amateur Swimming Club, Russell hasn’t swum competitively since he was 13 except for school racing. But he discovered his old training 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,” Russell said.

For the last six months the students have 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. Supervised by their coach Harry Barker, who has swam the Channel himself, training has included hours in the pool (they are up to 180 lengths per hour) 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 at Berwick 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 10 seconds, but the difference is that mentally now 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 straight 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,” Russell said.

And he explained why there won’t be a celebration party waiting for them when they eventually reach France.

“No-one else will be there as no-one can know where we’ll land because of the current,” he said. “We’ll probably have our own little celebration on the beach, then get in the boat and go back!”

The boys are swimming on behalf of three charities: The Sandpiper Trust (which helps provide equipment to rural medics), the Henry Fraser Trust (which aids spinal sports injured) and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

They have been raising money for the charities whilst preparing for the swim.

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, which raised an impressive £10,000.

For more information or to donate, go to www.chanelswim2011.co.uk