I was only 9 years old when I watched Thomas Gregory become the youngest person to ever swim the English Channel. He was just 11! This also earned Thomas an entry into the Guinness Book of Records. By this time I was firmly into my pool swimming at primary school in landlocked Botswana and watching this breaking news story one Sunday evening with my family in 1988 was a revelation. If he could do something like that then why couldn’t I? What Thomas didn’t know was that he would become my inspiration for all of my future swimming endeavours.
It would still be another 17 years before I decided to take on the English Channel after moving to the UK from Botswana and South Africa.
I crossed the English Channel successfully on my third attempt in 2011 in 15 hours and 18 minutes. After arriving back at the hotel later that morning in Dover haggard and beat, I sauntered up to the infamous Matthew Webb statue on the lawn of the Dover Sea Front. Matthew was the first person to cross the channel which was back in 1875. It was a homage of thanks. But I was also thinking of Thomas’s great achievement.
You could only imagine my reaction when I ended up meeting Thomas for the first time for a few drinks in the City of London yesterday. I’d met my hero. A great man, but also just one of the guys. A true inspiration. Amazing to catch up and hear some of his stories. One that I particularly loved was when he was at a pub a few years ago playing on a Trivial Pursuit quiz machine and one of the questions that cropped up was, “Who was the youngest person to swim the English Channel?” He was bewildered and amused but answered correctly.
Thank you Tom!