February Swimming Times: The Swimming Gladiator
8 February 2011
In February’s Swimming Times, we caught up with ‘Gladiator of the Lakes’ Thomas Noblett who transformed himself from non-swimmer to open water supremo in little over 16 months.
You may have seen 48-year-old Thomas on the ITV programme The Lakes, transmitted early in 2010, repeated later in the year, and its second series showing now.
Ninety-nine per cent of people think they can swim because they splash around but it's more than that - it's an art.
As managing director (with wife Claire) of The Langdale Chase hotel on the shore of Lake Windermere, he has a fair-sized training pool on his doorstep.
And, helped by his faithful sidekick, hotel manager Andrew Tighe, sometimes known as ‘the Admiral’, in the rowing boat, his battling swimming efforts were filmed, adding to his notoriety and fundraising.
"Ninety-nine per cent of people think they can swim,’ he says, ‘because they have splashed around, but it’s much more than that, it’s an art."
The words of someone who was beginning to find a real resonance in the sport.
"Yes, swimming was now becoming a joy – the first time I got into Windermere, I thought everything was going to attack me, it was horrible, black, cold and frightening. But once I’d kept getting in and doing longer swims, and getting into bi-lateral breathing, I gradually started to enjoy it."
He joined the BLDSA, went to Malta for a six-hour swim, and continued swimming through the winter.
"I entered every BLDSA event," continues Thomas, "starting with Liverpool Docks. That was another eye-opener, sea-water, a bit brackish, two-and-a-half hours for the four miles, but I did find it fairly easy. So I knew I was progressing."
By then he had an appetite for open water swimming, going on to swim the length of Derwentwater and many of the other Cumbrian lakes.
We were mixing with real swimming aficionados - I knew I'd be last but I knew I had to finish.
Together with Andrew, they would turn up with their canoe strapped to their van with washing line and their stuff in bin bags.
"It was a real culture shock because we were mixing with real swimming aficionados – just like I’ve become now – and I would get in just knowing that I had to finish. I knew I’d be last but I knew I had to finish."
He entered the rather incongruously-titled BLDSA Champion of Champions event in Dover Harbour – a five-mile swim, followed by three miles and then a one-mile ‘sprint’ to finish.
"It took me seven hours and because I was so slow, I had just finished one swim when they were giving the briefing for the next and I wandered over and they’d blow the whistle to get back in and I’d be off again.
"The reason I got through it was just down to determination and the will to complete it no matter what. And I think that’s when I began to get recognised for what I was doing – swimming and finishing."