11 June 2021

“Nothing great is easy”

Many of us took on hobbies, projects and challenges during the lockdowns but for one member of the JM Finn team, a personal challenge wasn’t quite enough; managing something only eight people before him have achieved seemed a reasonable goal.

Many of our readers will recognise the name John Royden as a regular contributor to these pages and as head of research for the firm.  Never one to stand still, John has reignited a passion for swimming and is taking on the challenge of swimming the length of Lake Geneva.

Overseen by the Lake Geneva Swimming Association, John estimates he will swim the c.70 km non-stop in around 36 hours. Swimming that distance would be a Herculean task by any measure, but unassisted and non-stop explains why only eight people have completed this; more people have walked on the moon, as John is keen to remind us.

John’s first foray into swimming was in 1993, when he swam the English Channel in just under 14 hours, raising just short of £100k for charity.  Driven by the desire to push the envelope of human endurance and raising more money for charity, he committed to attempting Lake Geneva in 2020.  This was scuppered by the lockdowns, but spurred on by the tales of daring do from Captain Matthew Webb, the first person to swim the Channel, in 1875 (in just under 22 hours swimming breaststroke), John resolved to continue his training and defer it to this year. 

Lockdowns continue to present challenges to his training as public swimming pools have been closed, but the ever-resourceful John has been tethering himself to trees and swimming against the current in mill ponds, driving to Dover a few times a week to train with the next generation of Channel swimmers and even rigging up a “dry” training bench in an old shed in the garden.

Whilst the distance is significantly longer, there are some advantages over swimming the Channel, such as the absence of oilrigs, super tankers and jellyfish. The combination of the latter two stirs painful memories for John after a ship drove through a shoal of jellyfish in his path leaving him to swim through stinging jellyfish soup. John describes this experience as akin to crawling naked through a field of stinging nettles! He hopes the lack of salt water will be slightly less abrasive on his body, but is wary about the need to swim harder to make up for the lack of buoyancy in a fresh water lake.

Aside from the fact that John confesses to enjoying smothering himself in Channel grease (lanolin and Vaseline) to protect from chafing, John’s motivation is primarily to raise money for charity and has chosen the Brain Tumour Charity as his beneficiary. Having lost his sister to a brain tumour aged 32, he has long wanted to do something to support the valuable work they do. 

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 in the UK, yet only garners 3% of the £600m annual spend on cancer research. There are over 8,000 people living with brain tumours in the UK today, yet treatments and survival rates have barely changed in 40 years.  The Brain Tumour Charity has the ambitious goal of doubling survival rates whilst halving the harm on quality of life for patients.  To date, John has raised over £140,000 for his swim, all of which will go towards the specialist research undertaken by the charity. He is also swimming in memory of his late colleague, mentor and former head of research at JM Finn, Geordie Kidston, who many readers will remember, furnished these pages for years with insightful thoughts on the state of the world’s stockmarkets.

To follow John’s training and swim, which takes place in July, or to support his fundraising, search for “John's mad swim just giving” on social media or visit www.royden.com. We wish John the best of luck and hope he won’t follow the path of his hero, Captain Webb, who, whilst he did become a celebrity of his age, did let it get to his head and succumbed trying to swim the whirlpool rapids below Niagara Falls, a feat declared impossible.

Written by Captain Matthew Webb


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