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Marathon swimmer Ollie Wilkinson takes on Pacific Ocean challenge

Gloucestershire North > Sport > Swimming

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Monday, 31st July 2017, 09:00

Ollie Wilkinson just after finishing and winning a race in Lyme Regis in 2009 Ollie Wilkinson just after finishing and winning a race in Lyme Regis in 2009

Like many other people living in and around Cheltenham Ollie Wilkinson goes to Sandford Parks Lido.

But unlike many other people, Ollie doesn’t just go for a quick dip, a spot of sunbathing and an ice cream.

That’s because Ollie is pounding out the lengths in preparation for his next big challenge.

You see, Ollie is a marathon swimmer and his next big challenge is in the Pacific Ocean where he is hoping to cross the 20-mile Catalina Channel from Catalina Island to Los Angeles.

Ollie is no stranger to these sorts of challenges having twice swum across the English Channel. He also holds the world record for the fastest swim around Manhattan Island.

The swim in the Pacific on 14th August does present some different challenges however.

“I’ll be doing it at night,” the 42-year-old said. “The water’s much calmer at night. I’ll start at about 11pm and hopefully finish in the early hours around 7 or 8am.”

He’ll have a support boat nearby, of course, which will carry a beacon so he can see where he is going, and there will be a couple of paddlers either side of him to make sure he is going in the right direction.

He won’t be wearing a wetsuit however.

“It’s a non-wetsuit swim,” he said. “It’s considered wetsuits give you too much assistance so I’ll just be wearing a pair of speedos, a hat with a flashing light and a pair of goggles!”

As a practising vet – he works in Prestbury – you could be forgiven for thinking his favourite swimming stroke is doggy paddle but there’s only one stroke he’ll be using in the Pacific.

“Front crawl,” he said. “I want to get it over with as quickly as possible!”

So any other problems he may face?

“It’s quite a busy shipping lane,” he laughed, “so I’ll have to make sure I don’t get hit by a boat.

“And it’s also the migratory route for the great white shark so that could be a bit of an issue as well!”

Ollie, who has also swum the Strait of Gibraltar, learned to swim in Liverpool, the city of his birth.

“I was coached by Olympic swimmer Andy Jameson’s mum,” he said, “and I swam for the City of Liverpool.”

At the age of 12 he moved to Melbourne in Australia – he describes himself as a “Scouse Australian” although his accent is more Aussie than Liverpool.

“I continued to swim in Australia – long distance, ocean swimming,” he said. “I’ve got a passion for it. My biggest achievement has to be Manhattan Island in 2011.”

It was some achievement, too, as he completed the 28.5-mile course in a scarcely believable five hours, 44 minutes and two seconds.

That New York swim is one part of a ‘triple crown’ for marathon swimmers which also includes the English Channel and the Catalina Channel.

While others have already completed the triple crown, if Ollie has a decent Pacific swim he may be able to lay claim to another record.

“I could get the fastest triple crown time,” he said. “I’ve obviously got the fastest Manhattan Island time and I have a reasonably quick English Channel time too. My time was 11 hours in 2009 – the record stands at seven hours so I'm so way off that but the average crossing times are about 13 to 14 hours."

Ollie returned to this country at the start of the millennium. He met his wife Vickie – who will be in the Pacific on the 14th in the support boat – and has pretty much stayed here ever since.

Vickie is a decent sportswoman herself. “She’s a long-distance triathlete and she’s very successful,” said Ollie with pride.

“She’s won age groups in long-distance Ironmans and has represented Great Britain in Hawaii in age group triathlon.”

She can swim, too, although obviously not as well as her hubby!

Like Ollie, who writes a regular Pet Care column for The Local Answer, she trains at the lido in the heart of Cheltenham.

“The lido is great,” said Ollie. “It’s a fantastic facility. I much prefer outdoor pools to indoor ones and the water is much warmer than the sea!

“I’ve fundraised for the lido and we’re very lucky to have it on our doorstep.”

Ollie, who has been competing in various open water swimming races around the country to prepare for his Pacific challenge, is also using this swim as an opportunity to raise money for a good cause.

He is hoping to raise “a couple of thousand pounds” for The Chamwell Centre, a Gloucestershire-based charity that has been set up to raise money to build a new state of the art centre for disabled children, which will include a hydrotherapy pool, at Milestone School in Longlevens.

Anyone wishing to sponsor Ollie should visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/olliewilkinson

Other Images

Ollie Wilkinson after winning the 'Blood Big Marathon Swim' in Melbourne, Australia
Ollie Wilkinson in a sprint into the finish of the Bloody Big Marathon Swim
Ollie Wilkinson swimming around Manhattan in 2011 on the way to setting world record
Ollie Wilkinson just after winning the 'Lido Sprint' trophy
Ollie Wilkinson swimming in the sea in Cornwall with Tassie
Ollie Wilkinson just after winning the Lake Zurich Marathon Swim

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