How I became the oldest person in the world to swim the English Channel

Last year, Cyril Baldock, 70, became the oldest person to swim across the English Channel. Here’s how he did it!

Sydney based Cyril Baldock is living proof that amazing things are possible at any age. Last year, the 70-year-old became the oldest person in the world to swim non-stop across the English Channel, a phenomenal distance of 560km. The Bondi lifeguard overcame the tempestuous open water in an impressive 12 hours and 45 minutes.

Cyril’s first swim
Baldock first swum the English Channel in 1985 at the age of 41, largely due to chance and looking for a suitable challenge.

“I had some ankle problems and I wasn’t able to run anymore so I was getting unfit. I saw an article in the newspaper that said that the famous Australian who’d swum the channel 19 times was training a South Australian to become the fifth Australian to swim the channel, and they had pulled out. I was looking for a challenge and I rang Des to see if the spot was still booked and available. It developed from there. He became my mentor and coach and we set the plan and nine months later I went ahead and did it.”

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Thirty years later
This amazing athlete then decided to repeat the challenge almost thirty years later, at the age of 70 to take the crown of the oldest person to have ever completed the swim. “There was no way in the world I was ever just going to swim the channel a second time just to swim it,” this Bondi Beach local says proudly.

When reflecting on these two life-defining events, Baldock said that despite being thirty years older, the second swim wasn’t much more of a challenge as he was able to better prepare for it this time around. He knew what to expect.

“As it turned out, the first time was a really awful day and it was really tough. This time we were able to plan a lot further in advance and get much better tidal dates. In saying that there were definitely tough stages. After about ten hours it started to get really tough.”

He adds that when breaking down what it takes to successfully swim the English Channel he considers the challenge to be one third physical, one third mental and one third good planning.

Champion in training
Leading up to the swim, Cyril was training in the pool for two hours daily, five times a week. On top of this he was doing a long swim in the open water for five to eight hours every Saturday. Amazing stuff!

He varied the location of the ocean swims to become accustomed to changing weather and temperatures. As well as regular swims around his local beach, Bondi, Baldock swam in the Manly damn, at La Perouse, Botany Bay and further south at locations such as Merimbula in order to train in colder water.

“You’ve got to make sure you are ticking all the boxes: making sure you can handle the cold water, swim for that length of time, [prepare and consume] food and drink that you would have organised many times.”

“The cold water is just about acclimatising; your body acclimatises if you do enough work in it,” adds Cyril. Not surprisingly he also says that being a Bondi local and lifeguard helped him train and prepare for the unpredictable open water.


Four steps to to becoming an English Channel champion
Baldock insists his second channel swim is testament to the importance of good organisation.

Step 1. The first step is booking a registered pilot and boat, as there are only seven or eight services on the channel.
Step 2. Plan well in advance, to ensure you are physically prepared, have organised your crew, worked out your food and drink and feeding schedule and that you stick to the rules under the instruction of the captain at the time.
Step 3. To be officially recognised as an English Channel swimmer, one needs to be accredited with the Channel Swimming Association, observed by Association officials and bound by their rules. For more information on registration and rules you can head to the Channel Swimming Association.
Step 4. Unfortunately, weather is the one thing you can’t control. However, you can determine a reasonable tide according to the tidal chart and pick an optimal time with warmer water and adequate winds. If you don’t pick the right time and don't ensure a capable crew, it would be easy to miss the landing spot in France and the coastline could easily get away from you.

Looking for inspiration to stay fit and active? Cyril recommends setting yourself a reasonable goal within your ability, which you can overcome step by step.

Mental determination
Baldock admits that completing the English Channel swim is very much a mental challenge. “So much of it is mental. You don’t worry about the whole swim, you just worry about it from feed to feed. You have to break it up step by step,” he adds modestly.

The other mental component is not letting one's age and other personal factors prevent you from attempting the challenge. “Age is just a number. You can be lucky too. I’ve been lucky with my age I think, I’ve had no major illnesses or anything but I guess in a lot of ways you make your own luck by keeping fit, keeping the right lifestyle, eating reasonably well and continuing to train,” this Bondi lifesaver adds.

What’s next? “I’m just keeping fit and in touch with training, but I’m enjoying myself,” says Baldock. He does modestly admit that becoming the oldest person to swim the English Channel was a “great thrill.”

So, will he swim the English Channell for a third time? Cyril says he hasn’t discounted the possibility of going back and taking the title back again in a couple of years. Watch this space...

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