Dave Tonge celebrating his world record swim. Pic: Dave Tonge

Meet Dave Tonge: From Splott Swim Kids To World Record Holder

Setting a new world record and raising nearly ten thousand pounds for charity would be an almost impossible task for many of us but the inspirational Dave Tonge from Cardiff achieved both after completing a mammoth 24 hour swim in aid of Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. He tells his story to our reporter Tom Prosser

“My Skin was flapping as I was Swimming, it was horrible.”

That was the scale of the challenge facing swimming mad Dave Tonge, who has been involved in the sport virtually all of his life.

The 39-year-old started his swimming journey as a toddler with Splott Swim Kids before progressing to Cardiff City Swimming Club and eventually to the national team.

“Swimming has always been in the family, my brother and sister were good swimmers too and my mum ended up running the Cyncoed Conquers club based at what is now Cardiff Met University.

“I started to help out with the coaching, before completing two degrees as a mature student at what is now Cardiff Met. I worked my way through the ranks from being a lifeguard, to leading the Cardiff Met swimming team and then onto becoming a lecturer in sports coaching.

“I now own my own business called Heathwood Swim where we coach people of all abilities and ages.”

As you can probably tell by Dave’s background, he has devoted much of his life to the sport so to become a world record holder in a sport that he has so much history with makes it all the sweeter for him.

The record is for the longest swim – by duration – in a wetsuit in an endless pool.

An endless pool, is basically like a running machine where you swim in a stationary position against a current. To make things even harder, he also completed the swim in a wetsuit.

Ahead of the challenge, Dave had to come up with a suggestion of how long he would need for feeding and bathroom breaks, and then the World Records Association say if it’s going to be acceptable or not to set a new world record.

Both sides agreed on a format of 25 minutes swimming and then five minutes of rest and safety checks.

“When I was in primary school there wasn’t many swimmers so everyone used to ask me how far can I swim.

“I used to say I’m not sure but that question always stayed with me and now when i am next asked this question, I can say I have swam for 24 hours.”

You might be wondering how it is possible to swim for 24 hours as it would be a tough challenge just to stay awake for that length of time, let alone putting your body through that level of strain.

“Swimmers will relate to this, as long as you fuel me, I can go on all day, or at least you think you can.

“It’s like when your a youngster on holiday your fueled by alcohol to stay up all night but in this case I was definitely being stimulated by exercise and the focus of achieving what I set out to do and raising money for charity.

“I felt sorry for my team around me who stayed with me all night. my brother, my brother-in-law, a few of my swimmers, coaches and the owner of the facility I used.

“They were all so tired, when I took my breaks, the shouts of “come on” were getting quieter as the night went on.

“I thought i’d be more tired, during my training I was doing 12 hour swims and my wife was saying that I should train in the night but I didn’t want to put my body under that stress as whatever preparation I was to do, this was always going to be a tough day at the office.”

Throughout the duration of the swim, there were paramedics and physios on hand to monitor Dave and to make sure he had all the support he needed to complete the challenge.

“The paramedics and physios are clients of mine, when they found out about the swim they offered to help out as they said your doing a tough challenge here and you need someone to keep an eye on you.

“They were there to check on my blood sugar levels, my heart rate and my oxygen levels.

“My physio during the swim is actually cyclist Geraint Thomas’ physio, he’s about to go out to work on the Tour de France shortly. I’m just so grateful for the support.”

Due to the depths of the challenge, this was never going to be a straight forward exercise for the determined Dave who said there was some concerns about his levels during part of the swim.

“At around the halfway stage, when I got out of the pool for one of my breaks, the paramedics didn’t tell me at the time but my blood sugar levels increased from a steady seven or eight to about 12.

As my heart rate was low they were concerned I wasn’t in the right zone to be taking on all the sugar I was eating for fuel. They then stopped me eating and was just allowing me to drink which helped to bring them down again.”

“There was also concerns about my hands, they looked like they were hypothermic but luckily it turned out just to be an extreme case of pruney fingers, just like if you have been in a bath for a long time for example.”

Dave Tonge’s hands after completing his swim. Pic: Dave Tonge/Cardiff Met Sport TV

The expert advice that Dave received, could have been the difference between whether he completed his mission or not.

“It was great to have that reassurance from the paramedics, in my practice 12 hour swims, they weren’t there so my levels may have been spiking then, if I continued along that path who knows, I may have not completed it, so I am very grateful to them.”

He was cheered over the finish line by members of his family.

“Going into the last hour, it was great to see my wife, kids, nice and nephew all with banners it just gave me that extra push to finish in style.”

Dave being cheered on by his family. Pic: Dave Tonge/Cardiff Met Sport TV.

As well as breaking the record, at the time of print he has raised nearly ten thousand pounds for local charity Velindre Cancer Centre.

“I lost my father five years ago, not to cancer but he needed a lot of blood transfusions and Velindre work closely with the Welsh blood service so I decided to fundraise for them.

“We all know someone who is touched by cancer, my father-in-law has had treatment there in the last two years and there are some people a similar age to me being treated so it just makes you think.

“They have some wonderful patrons and do a lot of great work so it’s good to be able to help them.

“I am also really grateful for the sponsorship I have received from local businesses, it costs a lot of money to pay for an official world record attempt so its thanks to them that I have been able to arrange this challenge which then enabled me to raise money for charity.”

So what is next for Dave, he is now hoping to compete in the Ironman event in Tenby later this year before potentially eyeing up another world record challenge.

He currently coaches former Welsh rugby internationals Gareth Thomas and Shane Williams and is hoping they can be involved in the next one too.

“I am going to let the dust settle for a bit and speak to my wife as she is a great support but I am considering setting up a mixed ability relay where loads of my clients can take part, hopefully Gareth and Shane too.

World Records are keen for me to go ahead with this idea and it would be a good way to get lots of different charities involved.

“It was a tough 24 hours, I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t but I’m very proud of what I achieved and the money I’m raising for charity.”

If you would like to support Dave’s fundraising for Velindre, you can donate through the link below:

http://https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/worldrecordendlesspoolswim

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