Marathon swimmer Andy Donaldson has ticked off his seventh and final swim at the Tsugaru Strait in Japan on his quest to complete the gruelling Oceans Seven marathon swimming challenge making him only the 24th person in history to complete it.
Upon completion, Mr Donaldson who we have been following for the duration of his challenge broke two world records;
Before Mr Donaldson, the previous world record for the fastest completion of the Oceans Seven was held by Australian Lynton Mortenson who took 2 years and 60 days to complete. Mr Donaldson took 355 days, smashing the record by over a year.
Mr Donaldson also snuck in to take the fastest cumulative swim time of previous world record holder Attila Manyoki of Hungary who held the record at 64 hours 35 minutes, with Mr Donaldson’s combined time coming in at 63 hours 2 minutes.
We recently caught up with Mr Donaldson, to hear first-hand how it feels to be the new world record holder for the fastest time to complete the Oceans Seven.
“It’s a huge honour and I am just absolutely delighted to have managed to pull it off,” said Mr Donaldson.
“When I set out with my team to do the Oceans Seven, I didn’t really know if it would be possible, so the way it has come together and in the fashion it has is truly incredible.”
“I really do feel proud and delighted with this achievement, this shared achievement that not only me but my whole team has managed to do.”
Mr Donaldson set out on 7th August 2022 with the goal to not only complete the Oceans Seven challenge in under one year but to also raise awareness and funds for the Mental Health Foundation, Black Dog Institute.
“While I did set out to be the fastest person to complete the Oceans Seven, I really just wanted to put a spotlight on mental health and bring more awareness to it,” said Mr Donaldson.
“I’m so thankful my swimming has attracted attention to such an important cause and I’ve had the opportunity to not only raise awareness but also funds for Black Dog Institute via my platform.
“I’ve also tried to share the learning I have picked up along the way with others to try and inspire people to share positive messages around, that gives the community hope and courage.
“Taking on the Oceans Seven has really highlighted the importance of teamwork and community and having other people alongside you in your journey and that also relates to everyone’s everyday life as well. I wouldn’t have been able to conquer this challenge if it wasn’t for the support of others throughout my toughest times.
“I was really only able to get through my darkest times with the help of others and I think that is a great lesson not just for swimming but also for life as well.”
Mr Donaldson’s final swim of the Oceans Seven, the Tsugaru Strait was not only the most difficult swim of the seven but the most difficult swim he has ever done in his career.
“Tsugaru was the most challenging thing I have ever done, not only physically but also mentally for a number of varying reasons,” said Mr Donaldson.
“First of all, I had a quick turnaround from my previous swim, the Catalina Channel and I was fairly run down from that swim, so it was a real tough effort to get back in the water and back on the horse so quickly.
“I also had a lot of nerves going into the swim because it was the final swim and a lot of things rested on the outcome of it.
“The outside chatter of the issues that marathon swimmers have been having recently doing the Tsugaru Strait was also playing on my mind, but I just had to try and block it all out and focus on my swim at hand.”
The guide company that oversees the Tsugaru Strait channel swim has recently come under fire from the marathon swimming community, for its newly implemented restrictions which include; not allowing swimmers to swim at night, setting time limits and dictating the lines you can swim. They also hold the right to pull any swimmer from the water if they feel it is necessary.
The recent implementation of new rules and restrictions for swimming the Tsugaru Strait also had Mr Donaldson concerned before starting his swim.
“Every attempt of the channel so far this season has been unsuccessful and that was certainly playing on my mind,” said Mr Donaldson.
“The World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA), has recently launched an investigation into the conduct of the swims in Tsugaru because a number of marathon swimmers have had a lot of issues recently.
“So there was a lot of negativity online that I had to block out and that was difficult to manage leading into the swim.”
Once in the swim, Mr Donaldson was met with extremely challenging and powerful currents which was the shortest swim of his seven and the most gruelling.
“The currents were cross currents, raging at up to eight kilometres an hour. This was an issue I knew I had to deal with because quite often the currents are better at night compared to the day, but it was something I had to deal with since I had to swim in the daylight and be done by 7 pm,” said Mr Donaldson.
“On top of the cross-currents, I had some really turbulent surface chop and powerful winds. I knew it was going to be a long day in the office when within 30 minutes of swimming I was throwing up and getting thrown around like a rag doll in a washing machine.
“The swells were so relentless that we had to point into the direction of the currents just so we weren’t getting swept downstream and off course too much.
“I battled into the cross-currents for six hours before I was able to change direction a little bit and let the current take me further east but that was short-lived because the last 5-10 kilometres I had to try and break through the cross-currents again which were pulling me back out to sea.
“To put it into perspective, the last five kilometres took me over three hours to complete and I usually swim that distance in just over an hour. So it was some really challenging conditions, but I managed to get there and finish at 6.03 pm, leaving less than an hour to spare before the Japanese Coast Guard would have pulled me out of the water.”
We asked Mr Donaldson what his favourite part of his Oceans Seven journey has been so far and he couldn’t narrow it down to one because he has had so many great experiences along the way.
“I’ve honestly liked all the swims along the way but for different aspects. Japan has been such an incredible country to visit and it was just such a relief to climb onto the large seawall at the end to finish. It was probably the best rock I’ve seen in my life,” said Mr Donaldson.
“Hawaii was definitely up there as well because it was just such an amazing place with beautiful scenery, landscapes and water. Then the Strait of Gibraltar was one of the most surreal places and being able to swim to Africa was incredible.
“The North Channel was a pretty special swim and close to my heart because having grown up in Scotland, it was truly special to swim from Ireland to my homeland.
“Then you have the English Channel, which is the Everest of swimming and I was really blown away by the number of people that come from all corners of the world to swim and it was also my first proper taste of these big channel swims.
“Being in Los Angeles made me feel like I was in Baywatch and such a surreal moment. But if I really had to narrow it down to one it would be the Cook Strait because there were so many incredible, kind, welcoming and generous people in New Zealand, that really welcomed me in. And of course, because I broke the world record on my swim there.”
There’s no stopping Mr Donaldson from trying new challenges, but that is after he takes a much-needed rest.
“It’s been over a year now since I set this goal and to be honest, I have really enjoyed challenging myself, meeting new people and using my skill of swimming to raise awareness for such an important cause,” said Mr Donaldson.
“But in saying that I am excited to get some rest and have some time away with my family, to recharge again.
“For me, it’s certainly not the end of Andy Donaldson though and I am wanting to pursue some different challenges and continue to use my swimming to raise funds and awareness in the future.
“I think next I would love to do some more swims around the world and also explore expedition swimming and some multi-day/stage swims in different parts of the world.
“So, I’m just putting it out there that if anyone has some good ideas, I am all ears and would love for them to get in touch with me.”
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