Nigel Downing, 71, Becomes Oldest British Swimmer to Cross Strait of Bonifacio

Photo Courtesy: Neda El Mon/MAF

Nigel Downing, 71, Becomes Oldest British Swimmer to Cross Strait of Bonifacio

Nigel Downing has become the oldest British swimmer to cross the Strait of Bonifacio, doing so in late September to raise money for charity.

Downing, 71, covered the 13.9-kilometer crossing in four hours, 25 minutes. He originally attempted the swim with a group of 16 swimmers on Sept. 24 before poor weather turned them back. He swam in a pod of four swimmers in his attempt and came in under his target time of four hours.

The Oxfordshire native has raised more than $6,000 for Mission Aviation Fellowship, the world’s largest humanitarian airline.

“I had my doubts at times about whether I would even finish – and I personally had a very challenging swim,” Downing said. “But it is a wonderful feeling to know it’s completed. When we finally came into Sardinia I could have wept with joy. Every one of us finished the challenge, and I feel incredibly proud for all the swimmers. It was an absolute honour to swim for such an amazing charity; one I am very proud to support.”

Downing’s first major swim came in 2015, a crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar in a wetsuit. Then 65, he did the swim of 18 kilometers in four hours, 36 minutes, again raising funds for MAF. He’s also swum a 30-kilometer pass of the River Thames with his daughter, Windsor, in 2010.

He’s been training since March for this swim between the southern coast of Corsica and the northern edge of Sardinia. Despite heavy rain during the passage that limited visibility, Downing was elated to finish.

“I had felt so nervous before setting out – I just wanted to complete the distance and make sure all my supporters got their pennies worth,” Downing said. “The pressure was intense – but the rainbow (at the start) was a great reminder which spurred me on.”

A native of South Africa, Downing moved to England in 1960. He obtained a Ph.D. in marine biology at Cambridge and chairs the specialist learning and development business at ProfitAbility, which he co-founded. He competed as a triathlete for GB Olympic in his age group at the 2005 World Championships in Hawaii.

Downing is still raising funds through MAF, a UK-based organization which provides flights for aid, development and mission organizations in the most remoted corners of the world and where it is needed most. You can still donate here.

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