9 Lifelong Lessons from Swimming the English Channel for Youth Mentoring

9 Lifelong Lessons from Swimming the English Channel for Youth Mentoring

Have you ever chased a dream and succeeded in reaching it?

I remember, as a 15-year-old, how I chased a dream to represent my State running Cross-Country, the sacrifices I made, the hard yards I put into training and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment when I was selected for the State team at the end of my most successful Cross-Country season and then achieved 6th place in the Inter-State race.

Trent Grimsey’s story reminded me of those days, as well as the importance of sharing one’s stories with young people. They love true stories!It was a while ago that I listened to Trent, at that time the current world record holder of the English Channel swim, share his story with a group of impressionable young students. Trent described how, as an average swimmer (in his opinion) he had achieved medals and much more as a swimmer, yet narrowly missed out on selection for the 2008 Australian Olympic Team. 

Wondering what he should do to stay motivated, Trent decided to swim the English Channel, not just to complete the swim, but to break the World Record.

Listening to his story, I felt that there were at least nine lifelong lessons we can all learn from Trent’s experience planning and swimming the English Channel.

  1. Always have a clear goal and share it with someone you trust. Trent firmly believed that, when we have a sense of purpose, it is easier to stay motivated and inspired and to live a positive life. As a swimmer, he needed a Coach, someone who believed in him and what he was  setting out to achieve; someone who would support him the whole way. Trent’s coach was a key player in his helping him achieve his personal goals.
  2. Thorough planning and preparation. The planning and preparation over a three year time period that Trent dedicated to his English Channel swim was incredible. he decided to study the then world record holder, Bulgarian Peter Stoychev, trying to get inside his brain and fully understand his preparation. Trent found out which boat Peter had used to escort him across the Channel and booked the same boat three years in advance. Trent swam long distance races against Peter to learn as much as he could about him. Wherever Trent went, he took down copious notes, determined that his preparation for the Channel swim would be the best it possibly could be.
  3. Watch your diet and nutrition. Trent needed to be supremely fit when he attempted the swim and that took careful planning of his diet, when he would eat or drink during the Channel swim and in the time leading up to the swim. His planning was meticulous. A healthy lifestyle appeared to be an important message Trent was sharing.
  4. Be teachable. One of the messages that came across loud and clear as Trent was sharing his story, was the importance of being teachable. He spent hours researching all sorts of things – including the tides, winds and currents – as he planned the English Channel swim. He sought the advice and opinions of others whenever he could find the people who might help him achieve his goal. That included discussions with the escort boat Captain who knew the currents so well. Trent also studied Peter Stoychev’s swimming style, eager to pick up as many tips as possible from the world record holder.
  5. Extend yourself. Trent shared some stories of his swimming career when he would swim more training laps than his rivals and do more exercises out of the pool than his rivals, as well as examples of how he became better and better as an Athlete. While it was tough work, the fact that he was doing that little bit extra proved to be important motivation as he chased his dreams. What he might have lacked in talent, when compared to his closest rivals, he more than made up with hard work.
  6. Find a Coach or MentorI mentioned this point earlier, yet it is an important one to stress. Trent needed to work with someone knowledgeable about long-distance swimming, who was also someone Trent could trust. During the actual Channel swim Trent’s coach appears to have been a key figure in keeping Trent motivated and focused on achieving his goal.
  7. Persevere. Trent stressed a few times the importance of persevering and not quitting when his body, his whole being was saying, “quit!” “You’ll get a second wind and so don’t quit,” Trent told the students. A powerful message for the life journey.
  8. Stay focused. Trent stressed the importance of staying focused on attaining the goal at all times. During the actual swim he had to focus on all the strategies planned with his coach to ensure he achieved his goal.
  9. Believe in yourself. This was another powerful message Trent shared. There was no arrogance as he shared his belief that, if one trains hard, prepares hard and lives a healthy lifestyle, dreams can be achieved. Trent spoke of how he woke up the morning of his English Channel swim in a really positive head space. He believed he would be breaking the record as he was in such good physical and mental shape.

In 2012 Trent broke the world record for the Cross Channel swim by two minutes. Although retired now, he still trains long-distance swimmers from a base close to where I currently live.

Trent’s humility and courage, as he shared his story, together with a delightful sense of humour, were three further stand-out qualities evident as he shared his story.

These lifelong lessons should all be shared by volunteer adult mentors who embrace the spirit of mentoring of young people as they encourage young people to become the best they can be.

Do you have any similar stories to share? People you know who have achieved remarkable things? How did they do it?

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website  Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.