Blind swimmer abandons Channel swim, sets loch record
By Lucie Robson, Cyprus Weekly – 10th August, 2012.
Scottish swimmer, Dean Dunbar, who was training in Cyprus in March to prepare for a Channel swim this month had to abandon the challenge at the qualifying stage owing to serious body heat loss.
The 43-year-old swimmer who has suffered from what is known as Rod and Cone Dystrophy which means he has some peripheral vision but cannot make out details, visited Paphos with his wife and support, Rona, for intensive training.
Dunbar chose the waters around Paphos as the temperatures were similar to those of the Channel in August.
The local training was part of specialised swimming training in Scotland which started in 2010 and culminated in practice around the south English coast this spring.
“I’m afraid it seems that I’m a bit of a cold water wimp. Unfortunately the Channel is not as warm as I had hoped. After Cyprus, I spent seven days in Jersey and then 10 days in Devon, but the water temperature never went above 13 degrees Celsius. On one particularly cold swim, I lost 3.4 degrees in my body core temperature. This took me down to 33.3 degrees which is classed as thermoregulation and that was after just 15 minutes in the water,” Dunbar told The Cyprus Weekly from Scotland. “The qualifying swim is six hours long and I wasn’t getting anywhere near it. My longest swim was just over 2 hours.”
Part of the problem was weight, Dunbar explained.
“I couldn’t gain the weight required. I had hoped to put on at least 1 to 1.5 stone, but was only able to gain a few pounds. Every time I gained a good bit of weight, I then burned it off in my training.”
The shortest point across the Channel is 34 kms. Dunbar had expected to be in the water for 15 to 18 hours.
Determined to be seen for himself rather than his blindness, Dunbar’s ‘adventures’ include bungee jumping from a helicopter, white water sledging the world’s highest commercially run waterfall, being thrown by the Dangerous Sports Club’s Human Catapult, participating in the gruelling five-day Hebridean Challenge adventure race and setting a time record around the Isle of Wight in a Thundercat power boat.
These are just a handful of extreme sports tasks he has taken on over the years, usually in order to raise money for needy causes which usually included charities which help those with impaired sight.
However, Dunbar bounced back from having to opt out of the Channel swim. Last Saturday he became the first person to swim the highest and coldest loch in the UK, Loch Etchachan, covering the 900 metre length in 15 minutes. He also biked and hiked 15 km to reach the loch and after the swim.
“Saying that I am a cold water wimp isn’t totally true as the swim I did on Saturday was much colder than the Channel. Now the Channel is 16 to 20 degrees Celsius while the loch is 8 to 10 degrees. I think it would be more a case of being a long distance cold water wimp.”
Dunbar planned to undertake the Channel swim for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) and the Perth and Kinross Society for the Blind which helped him out a lot in the early days of his blindness.
“When I decided to pull out of the Channel swim, I contacted everyone who made a donation and offered to pay them back, out of my own pocket. Fortunately everyone was very understanding and refused to take the money back,” he said.
In spite of the swim not going ahead, Dunbar felt that the Cyprus training helped him with his swimming in general.
“It allowed me to get out of the swimming pool, and get some longer, straighter swimming done. Up until then, I had been swimming lengths in a pool, which meant turning every 20m. This stopped me
from really getting into my stride. In Polis, I was able to swim up and down the length of the breakwater, which allowed me to do several kilometres each swim.”
Although Dunbar has very firmly decided that long cold water swims are not for him, he is already preparing for his next challenge.
“I am going to participate in the 20km Oban Sea Kayak Race with my very good friend and world class sea kayaker, Patrick Winterton,” he said.