Perth woman oldest to swim Channel

By AAP/Lloyd Jones with AG Staff 11 August 2010
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A Perth grandmother has become the world’s oldest woman to swim the English Channel.

A PERTH GRANDMOTHER WHO has become the oldest woman to swim the English Channel says thinking of the special people in her life kept her going during the crossing.

Sue Oldham completed the swim from Dover to the French coast on Monday morning (Australian time) in 17 hours and 31 minutes. The 64-year-old, from Carine in Perth’s north, first claimed the record in 2006 in a swim of 16 hours and three minutes.

“While a huge personal achievement, I did it for all who inspire me, like my son Michael and my five fabulous grandchildren,” she said after her swim. “In fact every hour of the swim I thought about someone special in my life, and that would motivate me to continue – that’s what took me to the end.”

Speaking from the United Kingdom on Tuesday morning (Australian time) Sue told ABC Radio in Perth she loved swimming in the ocean. “When you start something you have to finish it don’t you, no point in getting out when it gets a bit tough.”

World’s most difficult swim

The English Channel was regarded as the most difficult open water swim in the world, Sue says. “You just don’t know what you’re going to get because you’ve got currents and tides that could take you anywhere.”

The endurance swimmer said she struggled for five to six hours to get her stroke right and her throat began causing her discomfort along with a blocked nose and a sore right shoulder. “But I would never stop, I would never give up, ever.”

Sue’s Perth trainer Pauline Pratt and fellow Perth endurance swimmer Selwyn Jellie were on the support boat encouraging her. She was covered in grease and vaseline for the swim and was passed food and energy drinks on the end of a pole because once in the water she could not touch the boat or be touched by anyone until the finish.

Sue says that after the swim she thought she would “hang up my bathers and goggles and retire gracefully”. But after a glass of champagne to celebrate she thought she might still give the channel another go.

The record breaker said she probably swam 50km on her 2006 swim but the distance had yet to be worked out for her latest crossing. A month before her 2006 solo swim, Sueswam as the only female member of a relay team that still holds the world record for the oldest relay team to make the channel crossing.

For her latest crossing, she trained at Churchlands Senior High School swimming pool in Perth, swimming morning and evening for about five hours to fit around her part-time job.