Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Water Baby ..Michael Jennings

I came across this article yesterday via the Swimshaw method website who agreed for it to be reposted here.

Amazingly I was born in the bath, in 1938, not that I remember it. I was saved by the nursing home matron who directed Mum to hold me UNDER the water while she snipped the cord etc. Under the water because I hadn’t drawn my first breath and physically was still in the wetness of the womb. Thus I consider myself unique in as much as I could swim before I could even breathe. When Dad came home from the war in 1946, he despaired at my first swimming efforts and after a while just slung me in the deep end of the local pool. Again, I survived.

I should have been born with gills and web-feet because in the water I feel totally at home. I love the softness of wallowing in warm water on holiday and also pitting myself in rough open ocean conditions. I love night swimming in the sea and diving. I’ve done 400 scuba dives, once going to 198 feet in the Maldives. If racing I love he sheer joy of winning.

I never had any formal swimming lessons by a professional coach. My dad was a very good swimmer and he pointed me in the right direction. I did go to a couple of sessions under Harry Hyde at East Ham Baths when I was about 16. He made us do press-ups between sprints then run to the other end of the pool and do it all over again. Useless.

I was never going to be a very good sprint swimmer. I once came third in the Kent 100 yds championship, but 440 and 880 yds were my thing. I graduated to winning the Kent Long Distance twice, once in the River Medway and once in Dover Harbour. It was after this that I thought about a long distance swimming career and thought I should try the BLDSA (British Long Distance Swimming Association) Torbay race. I won it in record time and that same year (1960) did my first Channel swim, France to England in 13 hrs. 31 mins.

I wrote my book, Believe It Or Not, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my first Channel swim. I swam it again, from England to France in 1966. I also wanted to document the unbelievable life of an ordinary couple, which I consider myself and my lovely wife Ann to be. We’ve rubbed shoulders with all sorts of well-known personalities from the sporting and entertainment worlds. Ann is a very accomplished international vocalist. Two years ago she got to the last 100 in X Factor at age 71! As for me, I have swum the Channel twice, bowled Sir Donald Bradman twice as a boy, nearly killed Bobby Charlton, survived two shark attacks, spent eight days in a decompression chamber in Nassau and am an ordained minister.

The book is only available from me. Because I’m selling it in aid of the EllenorLions Hospices I didn’t want book retailers taking 40%, so I have promoted it and sold every copy personally. I’m out at least three times a week doing book promotions in supermarkets, garden centres, sports centres etc. and speaking engagements to groups and associations. I have currently sold about 1,600, and gave the Hospices £12,000 in November.

My favourite place to swim is Hythe, Kent. It has about the cleanest water around the Kent coast, and of course it is the sea. I was always a better swimmer in the sea than fresh water, as my BLDSA records from the early 60s will show. Also Hythe has the best fish restaurant I know, right on the promenade. I just just love to sit on their terrace overlooking the sea. And I love to swim at dusk as the sun goes down. It’s etheral.

My greatest swimming challenge was my 1966 England to France record attempt. The record was 10hrs 23mins held by a Dane, Helge Jensen. After six years of long distance experience and having been on countless Channel swims as either crew or observer for the Channel Swimming Association I knew, if I got a good day, I could better it. In the event the attempt was filmed by Dutch TV Station AVRO who paid my expenses. After seven hours I was only two miles off Cap Gris Nez, but the weather deteriorated and I eventually made a landing at Sangatte in 12hrs 59mins, the third fastest time in that direcion. Jensen’s record stood for a further 12 years, eventually being beaten by a girl!

Last year I got back into competitive open-water racing, doing four swims in UK with commendable results and took part in the Hellespont race in Turkey. I came second in the over 70s, narrowly beaten by Murray Rose from Australia, who won four golds, one silver and one bronze in Olympic swimming (1956 and 1960). I’m currently doing gym work five times a week and will start swimming in February. My main aim is the European Masters 3k Championship in Yalta, Ukraine in September, but before then I’m booking a one week trip with Swimtrek, probably in the Greek Islands.

My swimming tip? Aspiring long-distance swimmers can feel their way into the sport by joining the BLDSA. They have events over all distances nationwide, brilliantly organised in the sea, lakes, rivers etc. You mix with swimmers of all ages, abilities and experience and, in competing, you can see how you rate in the sport. Many Channel swimmers have graduated from doing these swims.

Get your copy of Believe It Or Not from Michael Jennings. Call him on 01474 704495 or email

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