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The weather window: Tom makes his challenge

In 1988, 11-year-old Tom Gregory became the youngest person ever to swim the Channel. Patrick Kennedy reads his memoir.

In September 1988, eleven-year-old Tom Gregory became the youngest person ever to swim the English Channel, trained by a coach at his local swimming baths in Eltham, South East London.

Tom first went to the swimming baths in Eltham when he was seven. As one of the slowest swimmers in his class at school, he could barely make it across a width without taking a break half way. Despite a reluctant start, his potential was soon spotted by the coach who ran the club. John Bullet was an old-school disciplinarian and a maverick in the Channel Swimming establishment, who had an impressive track record for training distance swimmers. He had established a team of local kids who trained together in open water at Dover, in the cold waters of Windermere, and in London Docks. When John singled Tom out as a Channel contender, Tom's training began in earnest; as his ability and stamina became evident, his (and John's) sights focussed on the world record for the youngest swimmer to make a solo crossing of the Channel.

As coach, mentor and inspiration John Bullet inspired extraordinary loyalty from his young swimmers. Tom and his older sister Anna were part of a close-knit group of young people who spent their holidays being mini-bussed around the country, camping out and listening to Top Twenty mix tapes, all the while training in conditions which would challenge swimmers of any age.

Tom describes the intensity and closeness of these five years of his life with affection and honesty; the account of his gruelling training and his record-breaking Channel swim, all before his twelfth birthday, is both exhilarating, and, to a generation brought up on stricter health and safety regulations, occasionally disquieting.

Tom's world record still stands today and can never be broken; since his swim the qualifying age for an official Channel challenge has been raised to sixteen.

Tom Gregory went on to become an officer in the Royal Anglican Regiment and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He now lives in Surrey with his wife and daughter.

Reader: Patrick Kennedy
Abridged and produced by Sara Davies.

15 minutes

Last on

Sat 1 Sep 2018 00:30

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