Swim England

A nation swimming

Dave Tonge swims length of the Channel at home to raise £5,000 for NHS

When Dave Tonge first decided to swim 21 miles in his endless pool, he was hoping to raise £100 for the NHS and show his support to the many essential workers in his life.

But the open water swimmer, teacher and coach received incredible support from across the country and the world, taking his overall total beyond £5,000.

Dave has shared with Swim England the story of his epic challenge.

The inspiration

Many members of my family are NHS frontline workers, including my wife, sister and aunt (who are all nurses) as well as my two sisters-in-law (one is a midwife and the other is a pharmacist).

I also have many friends who are key workers.

There have been so many inspiring challenges on the news and social media throughout the lockdown, including Captain Tom’s incredible fundraising efforts, Geraint Thomas’ bike ride and Shane Williams’ bike ride.

I thought I would try and do my bit and put my own shift in by taking on the mammoth task of swimming 21 miles in the time of an average shift for a nurse or doctor (12-and-a-half hours).

The day

I had raised £2,000 before I even started the swim (no pressure).

I calculated what my 100m pace would be so I could make the 21 miles in the 12-and-a-half hours.

The endless pool is like a running machine, so you can set the 100m pace and then use a stop watch to work out your distance covered.

One mile on 1.49 100m pace would take 30 minutes, so I decided to do 21 swims of 30 minutes each, taking a five minute break to rest, eat and drink every mile.

Over the years, I’ve been collecting my swimming hats from all the different races I’ve taken part in, so I decided to change swim hats every mile for something to look forward to and keep my focus.

I also changed goggles every five miles, so I had another milestone.

I was live on Twitter all day so people could monitor my progress and this also helped with my motivation, knowing people were watching me.

The first five miles went quite quickly, but miles five to 10 were mentally hard work because all I kept thinking about was that when I got to mile 10, I would still have another 11 miles to go.

I couldn’t wait for mile 15 to come so I could count down and I knew I would be on the home straight.

At mile 12, my body started shouting at me – lats, arms and shoulders started to ache and mind games kicked in.

There was a lot of screaming into the water, counting strokes, singing songs (as swimmers do), and trying to think of funny memories to keep my focus.

From mile 13 onwards, I started dedicating each mile to people by tagging them on Twitter. This gave me something to think about during each swim and also made me smile, knowing they could be watching me.

I hit mile 21 by 6.45pm and was absolutely buzzing that I was on course to finish this mammoth task in under 12-and-a-half hours.

I felt emotionally drained; there were tears in my eyes and my body was tingling.
I was very proud of myself and very happy that I had reached my goal and raised (at that point) more than £3,000.

The fundraising

When I decided I was going to attempt this challenge, I told my wife I would aim to raise £500.

She thought that was a bit high and suggested £100, thinking that anything over this would be a bonus. Little did we know!

By the morning of Thursday 23 April, I was just at £2,000. By the end of the swim I was at £3,700.

The next morning (my 38th birthday) I’d hit more than £4,000.

I was over the moon with this total and so grateful to everyone who had shared my social media posts and donated.

I thought that was going to be the final total but, on 27 April, Endless Pools in America got in touch with me and thanked me for my efforts.

They donated $500, which took my total beyond £5,000. Donations are still being made to this day. 

I’m very proud of my efforts and so thankful for the kind and generous people out there from all over the country.

It was so overwhelming to see the amount of anonymous donations I’ve had.

I’ve had some lovely messages from swimmers who have been inspired by my challenge and have told me they can’t wait to get back in the water and start their training again with the hope to try and raise money for their selected charities.

Some have asked me to do a channel relay swim with them. I’ve also had people asking me to do the ‘return journey from France’ in a faster time! If this lockdown continues ….watch this space!

The family

It was so nice to have my wife and son with me, cheering me on throughout the day.

My son made me a lovely poster with ‘GO DADDY’ on it, which made me very emotional even before I started the swim.

He was dying to get in for a swim all day so he got in with me with two minutes to go on the last mile, which was an amazing experience and a memory that will last forever.

My wife was also emotionally drained and felt she had done the swim with me!

The whole experience has been amazing and I cannot thank everyone enough for the support both financially and emotionally – here’s to the AMAZING NHS!

  • We want to hear about your unique fundraising efforts for the NHS during lockdown. And if you’re a key worker, share your picture with us and we’ll post it on our social media channels. Email the details to communications@swimming.org.