Last month, Big Changer Dom Boon swam over 16km from Europe to Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar to raise money for Big Change. Only 500 people have successfully made the crossing, far less than the 4,000 who have climbed Everest, and so it is quite an exclusive club. Here is Dom’s story in his own words, of how he applied a Growth Mindset to achieve his dream of swimming from Europe to Africa…
“I coughed and spluttered again. The lake water was starting to taste familiar. My arms felt so heavy and I looked to the sky, wishing that the warm sun would poke through the clouds. I was shivering now and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Another wave splashed into the side of my head and I started to doubt that I could finish the swim.”
That was me in September 2015 when I was 13km into swimming the length of Lake Windermere in the North of England. It was a low moment in my training programme geared towards my long term ambition to swim The Gibraltar Strait and cross from Europe to Africa. I eventually managed to complete the Lake Windermere swim but limped across the finish line and ended up with hypothermia. It took multiple layers of clothing and three cups of coffee before I stopped shaking and recovered.
On further analysis, I learned that I had done several things wrong – I started too quickly, I hadn’t refuelled with my protein drink often enough, I had a hole in my wetsuit that was letting in cold water and I didn’t have a psychological plan in place to deal with what endurance athletes refer to as ‘The Wall’. I learned how to tackle all of those things during my long training programme and made sure I did plenty more long swims as a practice for the big day when I would attempt my swim from Europe to Africa.
I had some amazing help along the way. Some of the brilliant people at K2 helped me to build a psychological plan to deal with the difficult moments in the swim. I spoke to other swimmers who had successfully made the crossing and watched many YouTube video clips of the swim route. My coach Jez Robinson helped improve my stroke technique and told me some home truths when he felt I wasn’t training hard enough. And of course I had huge amounts of support from my friends and family, who I will always be grateful to.
By the time I got to Southern Spain in May 2016, I had swum over 785km in training. This involved getting up regularly at 4.15am to squeeze in a swim before work and included several long swims over 4 hours, some open water training, some strength building exercises and a lot of sprint work to make sure I could break through the difficult Moroccan tides. I had a new wetsuit, a feed plan based on 30 minute intervals and a routine for getting mentally ready for the swim and to use when I was swimming. This involved concentrating on stroke technique, counting to 100 and singing songs in my head!
We had to wait a few days for the right weather conditions but then we finally got the go ahead from our ACNEG support team. I kept calm on the morning of the swim, remembering why I was doing it, why I knew I could complete it and my psychological plan. My brother Adam and my parents kept my spirits up. The two support boats finally set off to leave Tarifa harbour, chugging slowly to the start point. The waves looked big! I jumped in – it was 17c but felt colder and I immediately saw a shoal of fish at the bottom of the sea. I swam to the start point and a loud whistle was blown to signify the start of my swim.
The start was tricky – the waves were high but I tried to keep a steady pace and relax. I couldn’t see much and had to look up every few strokes to make sure I was following the main boat ahead of me. The sun was very bright and it was difficult to get my head above the waves. I looked back to see how far out to sea I had swum and wondered if the whole swim would be this challenging or if the waves would start to calm down.
After an hour, we started to see some big ships pass close by, which is not surprising given that it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. I was glad we had some expert guides to help us get across safely. The crew, my parents and Adam also saw some dolphins and had a very close encounter with some pilot whales. I tried desperately to see them too but struggled to see where they were surfacing.
At the halfway point, Adam told me I had swum for 1 hour 45 mins. This was far quicker than I expected but I knew that the Moroccan tides would be tough to swim through. I ploughed on and focused on my breathing and the strength of my arm pull. I tried to sing Oasis and Coldplay songs but couldn’t get a Justin Bieber song out of my head!
On my fifth feed, Adam told me that the tides were getting very strong but that I had less than 3km to go. I couldn’t believe it and asked him to repeat it. I was going much, much quicker than I had expected. I was working hard but the currents must have been kind to me. I adjusted my stroke to sprint, with a breath every 4 strokes to my left. I could see that Morocco was getting closer. The dinghy boat moved beside me and the guide pointed me to some rocks. I increased my speed, feeling emotional that I was finally going to achieve my goal – all of the early morning training, the sprint sessions and the long swims were finally paying off.
I touched Moroccan land at Punto Cires in a time of 3 hours, 5 minutes. I was ecstatic!
We could not be more pleased that Dom swam on behalf of Big Change to raise money for all of their projects. He has already raised over £4,500 for his chosen charities! You can support Dom’s challenge here and check out his website for more stories and videos.
Funds will be shared between Big Change, Scope – a charity which supports disabled people and their families, and Lesson’s in Life – an international charity which helps fund education opportunities for young people in South Africa.
Dom also wishes the best of luck to all of our swimmers on Strive 2016, who will be attempting to swim the 3.5KM Straits of Messina from Italy to Sicily!