We spoke to this incredible athlete for our Mar/Apr 2016 edition of the magazine. Here’s a taster, plus some of the answers we couldn’t fit in.
Do you think the hurdles that you faced early on in your childhood in terms of injuries has contributed to your overall motivation and desire to succeed now?
Yes, I think so and I always talk about the fact that I just didnâ€™t want to be one of those people that would look back in years to come and say I could have been. I used to play cricket when I was 19 and I didnâ€™t want to have to say to my grandkids that I could have been something if only I hadnâ€™t been injured. I played a lot of different sports and always to a fair standard but with cricket, I was really competing at 50 per cent of my level because of the injuries which was heart-breaking. So as I got older, I felt as if I had some unfinished business. Then I started swimming and even though I had a bad shoulder, I didnâ€™t want the injuries to stop me. I actually ultimately got the best out of myself due to the injuries, due to changing my technique and due to finding a way through it. I felt as though I needed the challenge and I needed to prove that I could take on something like this.
At one point in the book you mention that your dad told you he thought you were too sensitive for the sales world and you agreed with him. Do you think that sensitivity might have been an asset in the water?
I think my biggest asset in the water is that Iâ€™m determined to succeed and I inherited that determination from my father which actually made me excel in sales too. I like to get on with people and what you find in the business world and even in life in general is that not everyoneâ€™s going to get on with you. It is sometimes a bit dog eat dog and that is not the kind of world that I particularly like. For me, working in sales was always about relationship building and I always had good relationships with people but I donâ€™t know whether that sensitivity necessarily helped me in the swimming world. Whenever anything bad happened in the sales world, I would just keep going and going so I think itâ€™s the determination that was important for swimming. Also, in sales you can have that ruthlessness but in the ocean, you have to be ruthless with yourself and not with other people.
In a note at the start of the book, you mention that you donâ€™t believe in the word â€œcoldâ€ to describe water because of its negativity. Looking back at your first experience swimming in cold water, do you wish that you had thought more about the mental aspects of the swim?
I almost died but it was supposed to happen. I learnt as I went, and sometimes you need to experience these things to learn how to combat them. I had support from a hypnotherapist because of my shoulder injury and it was actually really effective because I started to understand more about the psychological element of swimming. I think it certainly would have helped if I had that understanding but again, I had to go through that toughness and push through it. You never know how capable you are you, you donâ€™t know whatâ€™s involved, you donâ€™t know if youâ€™re going to freeze to death, you donâ€™t know if youâ€™re going to be able to swim that distance and whether sickness will stop you. When I did my last swim, I had an absolute belief that I was going to make it. Because in the end, I understood that the current and the tides would eventually stop but I wouldnâ€™t. Itâ€™s just putting one arm in front of the other until you hit the other side and swimming through the negatives until you reach the positives.
Would you argue that one of the most appealing things about open-water swimming is the solitary aspect of the competition? Or do you think its more difficult not having a typical team to rely on as you would in other sports?
Iâ€™ve played in lots of team events and I like the team aspect. But with open-water swimming, you do have to rely on yourself because you are in control of your own destiny. Iâ€™m not a solitary person, I like to be around people and I like to share stories. But when Iâ€™m in the water, I am different in the sense that itâ€™s you against you and also you against nature as well. Thereâ€™s something good about seeing what I personally am capable of and seeing what I am potentially willing to put myself through. How many things could I conquer because of swimming? But swimming really isnâ€™t the important element here, the important thing for people reading or listening or getting inspired is that the swimming could have been climbing a mountain or getting out of your comfort zone or jumping out of a plane to skydive when you have a fear of heights.
Finally, what advice do you have for people that are trying to accomplish their dreams but facing hurdles?
As Captain Webb said, â€œNothing great is easyâ€. I always say never give up on your dreams. For me, everything is possible and I really believe that. If you can step over that line and realise that itâ€™s ok to give something a go and give it your best, you may just achieve it and actually, whatâ€™s the worst thing that can happen? I had people for years telling me that I didnâ€™t have enough weight and that I wouldnâ€™t succeed. But I want people to take inspiration from the book and realise that everything is achievable as long as you work hard and youâ€™re not afraid.