Member Of The Month: Andy Donaldson

Published on Thursday, 29 June 2023 at 1:11:54 PM

Andy photographed at Beatty Park, 2022. Photo: Amber Scobie

Andy Donaldson has been a member at Beatty Park for 10 years, and trains most mornings with Perth City Swim Club.

Over the last 11 months, he’s been tackling the Oceans Seven – a marathon of the seven toughest channel swims in the world.

In August 2022, Andy swam the 33km English Channel (England to France) in 8 hours, the fastest time in 10 years.

A month later, he was four minutes shy of breaking the world record for swimming the 34km North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), with a time of 9 hours and 13 minutes.

In March, he set a new Guinness World Record, swimming the 22km Cook Strait (North to South Island, New Zealand) in 4 hours and 33 minutes.

In April, despite large swells, high winds and relentless currents, he swam the 43km Molokai Channel (Molokai to Oahu, Hawaii) in 15 hours and 50 minutes.

And in May, he swam the 15km Strait of Gibraltar (Spain to Morocco) in 2 hours and 56 minutes.

Five swims down, Andy now has two to go; the 32km Catalina Channel (Santa Catalina to Los Angeles) and the 20km Tsugaru Strait (Honshu to Hokkaido, Japan) which will both take place in July.

Equating to almost 200km of swimming, Andy is doing the challenge not only to test his endurance, but to raise money for mental health research. So far he has raised over $30,000 for the Black Dog Institute.

He’s off to LA next week, so before he jets off again, we spoke to him about his Oceans Seven journey and all the challenges a massive undertaking like that brings.

What motivated you to tackle the Oceans 7?

From a personal point of view, I love a challenge. In my own swimming career, I felt I still had more to give and some fuel in the tank, so I wanted to try and do something big.

When researching about the English Channel I learned about the Oceans Seven, which is the seven toughest channel swims in the world. That really caught my eye; I wanted to give that a crack whilst I was still young, fit and fast, and perhaps able to do something special.

I think the second main reason is that I saw an opportunity to use the challenge as a vehicle to do some good and help a cause that is close to my heart, which is mental health. I felt if I could do really well with the Oceans Seven maybe it would attract more attention to the purpose behind the challenge and hopefully generate some funds and awareness that could support that issue.

Andy ahead of swimming the English Channel in August 2022

What goes through your mind when you’re doing a really long swim?

Great question! To be honest, not a lot. I try not to think too much, I usually find myself going into auto pilot and a state of flow, but it depends what the situation is. In some of the swims, I’ve been swimming through areas of darkness; it’s hard not to worry when you’re in those situations and you can’t see what’s beneath you. In some places there’s the risk of sharks or jellyfish or orcas (killer whales). We’re all human, those worrying thoughts all come through your mind, regardless of how long you’ve been doing the sport for. When that happens there is a lot of self-talk – you have to stay calm and composed and just remind yourself that you’ve got a team around you to support you and they always have their eyes on you making sure you’re looked after and safe.

Do you ever feel like quitting or giving up? How do you overcome that?

Absolutely. There are certainly times out there in the water where all you want to do is give up and quit. Your muscles are screaming, they feel like lead. Or you’re really cold, which is what happened when I was swimming from Ireland to Scotland, I basically turned into an icicle. It is hard to push through during those moments.

I think in those moments, having a good purpose behind you helps. And having a great team surrounding you helps you to push through those tough times. When I was in Hawaii and I was struggling we got caught out in an un-forecasted storm. At some points, we were actually making zero progress. We were being pushed backwards and off course, and it is tough. I think in those moments you think back to why you’re doing it, and all of the people that are around and have been supporting you on this journey, and it gives you extra motivation to do it for them and for a bigger cause than yourself. There’s a great quote by Nietzsche; “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” and I think that’s so important – having purpose helps you to push through the toughest times.

Andy swimming the North Channel, September 2022

What goes into doing a channel swim? What support, preparation and conditions do you need?

There’s a lot. Obviously training – there’s no getting around that. There’s no cutting corners. These channel swims are marathon distance, so you have to do the training in the water to prepare for that. I think having good technique helps; it prevents injury and increases efficiency out there in the water. You still have to have that aerobic capacity, so doing my squad sessions (with Perth City) really helps prepare for that.

In terms of support, preparation and conditions, I think a key part of support is having good people around you, because it’s not an easy journey and one that you can’t really do on your own. Day-to-day, having good people around you to keep you positive and motivated, because there are inevitably going to be days where you don’t feel like doing anything, like when it’s raining outside and you don’t want to swim. Having people in your corner for those moments to help remind you to keep pressing forward and they’re there for you – that’s invaluable.

In the water, you have a boat and a team helping you out there in the channel. Again, it’s necessary – you can’t do it without those people, from a safety perspective and also from navigating the waters. You have to place your entire faith in the support crew around you. So having good people around is key.

In terms of conditions, ideally you want calmer conditions. You’re out there at the mercy of the ocean, it’s not quite like running a marathon where you could pretty much do it any day of the year, regardless of the conditions. When you’re out in the ocean it’s a different ball game; it’s nature at its wildest, so you have to be patient and wait for the right day because ultimately you can’t overpower nature. Nature always wins. So you might as well have it working with you rather than against you.

Andy's support crew during his English Channel swim, August 2022

What’s your training schedule like?

I’m currently swimming around 14-16 hours a week at the pool at Beatty Park. Most of my training is done at the pool because it’s a more controlled environment and we can focus on working different energy systems and be a bit more specific with our training compared to swimming in the ocean, where I can’t have that interaction with my coach. There’s a few more elements outside of my control in the sea, like sea creatures.

In terms of dryland, I’m doing two gym sessions a week. These are one hour long gym sessions and they focus predominantly on strengthening the ligaments around the muscles and increasing their durability, because when we’re going to be out there in the channels, we’re working for up to 16 hours at a time. Ensuring my body is equipped for that and can perform for that period of time is essential, and dryland gym work plays a large part of that.

What do you like about training with Beatty Park? Who do you train with?

I train with Perth City Swimming Club and my coach is Eoin Carroll. It’s a fantastic environment, a really friendly squad, and lovely staff that make you feel like family. I’ve been coming for the last 10 years and it’s been incredible and I keep coming back. Everyone’s invested in what you’re doing and looking out for you. It’s great to have people training toward similar goals; you can push each other, keep each other motivated and support each other as we work towards those goals. Community is such an important thing and there’s certainly a fantastic community at both Beatty Park and Perth City Swimming Club.

Here's Andy talking about his history with Beatty Park and why he loves training here. We wish Andy all the best for his two remaining swims in July!

Click here to learn more and donate to Andy’s Oceans Seven Challenge for mental health.

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