Caian medic Professor Andy Wolf, 63, is to become one of the oldest people to take on a solo swim across the English Channel in a bid to raise funds for cutting-edge 3D reconstruction of infant hearts.
Cardiac specialist Professor Wolf (1973) will brave temperatures as low as 15°C in just a pair of Speedos, hat and goggles for the August attempt, likely to take over 15 hours and involve an actual distance swum of up to 30 miles. The crossing from Dover to Cap Griz Nez, which remains one of the great endurance swimming challenges, has been completed by only just over 1,000 people since it was famously first achieved by Captain Webb in 1875. The record-holding oldest swimmer is South African Otto Thaning, who completed the arduous feat in 2014, aged 73.
Those taking on the epic swim face hazards including hypothermia, exhaustion, jellyfish and sea sickness, not to mention the danger of crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes with its fierce currents. Food is given hourly on the end of a fishing line, as swimmers are not permitted to touch the pilot boat.
For Professor Wolf (pictured above and right), the risks are more than justified in order to achieve his goal: raising funds for a facility for 3D paediatric heart reconstruction. Newly-developed 3D reconstruction technology allows doctors to use CT scans and MRI images of baby hearts no bigger than a walnut to create exact, individualised copies. The model hearts, which reproduce exactly the obstructions and other defects causing harm to the child, then allow surgeons to plan the best and safest surgery.
The new equipment will be installed in Bristol Children’s Hospital’s paediatric Cardiac Unit, which Professor Wolf himself helped to set up over 20 years ago from 1995, having spent the first part of his medical career in Australia, Canada and the USA.
The Channel challenge also represents the continuation of a lifelong sporting passion for the Caian, who has swum competitively since the age of ten and was a senior and junior International for Great Britain in butterfly and individual medley, becoming GB student swimmer of the year in 1976. Since retiring from clinical practice in 2016, he has returned to swimming – including a team Channel crossing raising funds for Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital - and has now stepped up his training over the winter in preparation for the solo attempt.
“My training involves long swims in cold water of six hours and more along with speed training in the pool,” Professor Wolf says. “In the last month I completed two six-hour swims on the sea which has qualified me for the solo channel crossing, and in July I will undertake a ten-hour swim off the coast of Dorset as a dress rehearsal with my support team.”
Waiting for “the call’ from the support boat pilot is nerve-racking as all eyes are glued to wind waves and weather, he admits. “In last year’s Channel relay, we rushed down to Dover three times after the call, only to be told that the conditions were not right. Even on our successful third start in the dark at one in the morning, the waves were substantial.
“Dropping off a small boat in the dark on a rolling sea to start the swim was a bit of an out-of-body experience, and one of the scariest experiences I have had. Many psychological techniques are needed to keep on swimming when the going gets tough. These include “thinking yourself warm”, not looking at the distant coast and simply swimming from one hourly feed to the next.”
Following the swim
Professor Wolf has set up a Facebook blog to post about his training and fundraising. Please feel free to read, follow and share.
If you wish to donate, please visit his fundraising page.
Professor Wolf adds: “Every single penny raised will go towards this incredible development, which will transform the lives of the babies, children and their families who receive lifesaving treatment at the unit each year.”
He can be contacted individually for more information by email: email@example.com.