Eleventh-hour reprieve clears the way for Channel charity swim

Eleventh-hour reprieve clears the way for Channel charity swim

Old Elizabethan Piers Martin was part of a relay team that successfully swam the English Channel and raised more than £6,000 for Autism East Midlands.

Yet, even though the team were eminently suited to the challenge – Piers (OE 1987–1994) is a high-performance sport and business consultant and a former national-level swimming champion, while two of his fellow team-members are water polo coaches – the swim almost didn’t happen.

The authorising organisation – the Channel Swimming and Piloting Association (CSPA) – gives teams such as Piers’ a window of only just over a week, he explains. “After the glorious weather we have had this summer, the winds and swell broke and we spent our window waiting for it to clear. On the last couple of days, the CSPA told us that the weather was getting worse and we would have to look for a date in September, perhaps even next year.”

Devastated by the disappointment after more than a year of training to swim the 21 miles to France, the team packed their bags and left Dover.

A reprieve came unexpectedly. “As we arrived home we got a call for a small window, but it was going to be rough.” The ‘window’ started at 11pm, which meant the team faced the additional challenge of swimming at night.

“We returned to Dover and went for it. And rough it was. We started the swim at midnight from Shakespeare Beach, and the initial hours in the dark were against fairly strong swell. The waves did calm a little as the sun rose and we started making good time. Our pilot got us to within metres of Cap Gris Nez and we finished in 13 hours and 3 minutes.”

They had successfully negotiated the world’s busiest shipping route – among ferries, container ships and tankers – swimming against tides and in cold water without wet suits.

The team, comprising Piers, Sarah Dunsbee, Tim Dunsbee, Cara Saunders, Anna Lord and Jack Overtoon, was named Hayley’s Channel Relay Team. “I have known the Dunsbee family for a long time through water polo,” says Piers. “Tim and Sarah are both water polo coaches. One of their twin daughters, Hayley, is severely autistic and lives in a home which is run by Autism East Midlands (a leading autism charity), which is why we swam to raise money for that cause.”

Currently Managing Director of the Podium Performance Group – a consultancy that supports organisations, teams and individuals to develop optimised performance – Piers has also led and advised a range of Olympic and Paralympic sports.

He is the founder of GuruBox, a video-coaching platform that shares ideas and experience in less than a minute, and co-founder of the Sports Influencers (SP.IN) sports business network. Piers is Chair of UK Deaf Sport, a Director/Trustee on several Boards and Performance Advisor to various sports and performance programmes. He is also a member of the Panel of Arbitrators and Mediators for Sports Resolutions UK and the Institute of Directors (IoD) Cheshire Committee.
He is a keynote speaker and guest lecturer and sits on the Sports Advisory Board of Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).

Piers has a Masters degree and an MBA from Manchester University and is currently undertaking a PhD in Psychology.