The 11-year-old who swam the English Channel
Tom Gregory is the youngest person ever to swim the English Channel.
He started swimming when he moved to Eltham, when he was only six. His cousins attended the local swimming club so he and his sister Anna joined too.
He says, “Joining the club was very earthy, nearly all of the kids were older than me, and I was very scared!”
When Tom was eight he swam the one-mile width of Windermere, the largest stretch of water in the Lake District and a year later he swam half a length, which is about 5.5 miles. He continued to progress and two years later he completed the full length!
After swimming Windermere, Tom set his sights on swimming across the English Channel and by Christmas 1987 his training was well and truly underway. A priority was getting use to very cold water.
He decided to take only cold-water showers and baths. The hardy youngster even slept with a single sheet and with one window wide open!!!
At 5am on the 6th December 1988, wearing just swimming trunks, Tom stood on the tip of France and gazed across the cold, grey waters of English Channel. He had not yet reached his 12th birthday.
A small boat came to the shore. It was time for Tom put on his swimming cap and goggles and start his epic swim. HE DIDN’T STOP FOR 12 HOURS!!! For nourishment, he survived on digestive biscuits and bottles of warm tomato soup.
He told the BBC: “At one point I was teary. But I was too scared to stop.”
Afterwards he said, “I knew I was swimming fast when I got well over half-way in under five hours, so I was on for a sub-10 hour swim. That year I think I would have been the fastest swim, never mind being the youngest swimmer to take part.”
When Tom finally saw the white cliffs over Dover they were almost a mirage. When he got back to shore he was so exhausted he couldn’t stand up and kept falling to his knees.
He actually took 11 hours and 54 minutes, an amazing achievement. No one has done it younger, and no one ever will. The Channel Swimming Association no longer allows under-16s to attempt the crossing.
Even after all this time, Tom’s exploits are still proving an inspiration to others. People like Michael Ventre, who is planning to swim from New York to London. But that’s another story….
Casey, Year 6