The Ultimate Trophy Swim

Sir John Royden (Grenville 82) undertook the ’Ultimate Trophy Swim‘ – 36 hours of continuous swimming of the 42.8 miles of Lake Geneva. Only seven people have ever completed it. Sir John is raising vital funds for The Brain Tumour Charity, a charity very close to his heart after losing his sister, Emma, to this brutal disease when she was just 32.

July 2021: The results…

First of all, may I thank you again for your generous donations to The Brain Tumour Charity. My total so far is an amazing £372,000.

The swim

Well… I tried. We all have our endurance limits and mine appears to kick in at the 22-hour mark. But, I am coming back to finish the lake next year. The boat is booked, we’ve marked the map with an ‘X’ where I got out and where I will start again. I am going to swim the final 25km of the lake that evaded me and finish the swim.

The Brain Tumour Charity

But more on swimming later. The more important things first. After I had finished my swim, my wife Sarah, Sally Williams and I went to see one of The Brain Tumour Charity’s funded researchers Dr Spencer Watson in Lausanne, on the other side of Lake Geneva. He works from the ISREC Cancer Research Foundation.

Dr Watson’s work is focussed on how cancer cells hide in the scar tissue after a brain operation. There, they are relatively isolated because scar tissue does not have a good blood supply. Cancer cells can then come out of hiding post the original operation. Dr Watson is working on drugs to prevent scar tissue forming in the first place and also on ways to get drugs into the scar tissue. Well… that is how my sleep deprived head understood it at the time! The enormous benefit of his work is the greatly extended and improved quality of life for those who have had brain tumours removed by surgery.

A large TV monitor screen actually allowed Dr Watson show us slides of post-op scar tissue with much higher concentrations of cancer cells in the scar tissue. The computer can spot cancer cells and display them as a different colour. Here is the link to more information on Dr Watson’s brilliant project: 

I was really impressed with what I saw and was left with the impression that The Brain Tumour Charity are investing their money wisely. Thank you for your help.

Back to the swim

On Wednesday morning, we boarded Sundance, moored at Evian at about 9am and then motored the three hours to Chillion. We started swimming at just gone 12pm on Wednesday at Château de Chillon .

I swam to the beach beside the castle and then got going after waving goodbye to the land-based crew; Chris and Sandie Russell and Darren Williams.

Lake Geneva is a truly lovely place to swim. Clean, clear water at an ambient 19-degrees C.

The most exciting part of the swim was around midnight, when a drift net got caught up in the yacht so the two flashing posts on buoys that signalled the start and end of the net suddenly seemed to jump on me. That really got my heat racing in the dead of night!

As we moved into Thursday morning I began to fade. And at about 11am (I think) the lifeguards and my Sarah ended the swim. I was so tired that my speed had dropped to less than 1kmph and realistically, I was not going to finish the final 25km.

You may have heard that the decision was based on me being hypothermic. Whilst I was displaying the signs of hypothermia, the fact is that I was just exhausted and not swimming properly any more. My sleep-deprived brain was hallucinating as well, which made concentrating difficult. I was moving my arms through the water but not having the energy to grip the water and move forward. I had run out of puff and my speed had dropped. It would have taken me another day and a bit of swimming
at that speed to get to the other end; I would almost certainly have got hypothermia before getting there.

I always knew I was a plodder and not a speed merchant. I generally swim at 3kmph in flat calm waters, 2.5kmph in choppy waters and 2kmph if I am tired. That is why I thought 36 hours was a good estimate for how long it would take me to cover the 70km. The plodding theory failed after 45km… I ran out of strength. Sorry.

The boat and land crew

The distance that I did manage to swim was very much a team effort. It was not just me. Indeed, I regard my own performance in this entire adventure as being not much more than a catalyst. If I listed all the people who have helped me on my way this article would run for pages. Sundance had nine people on board: two skippers, two lifeguards and five feeders as well as three land-crew. That’s a dozen support crew to one swimmer. When I say it was not just me; I mean it!

Supporting a marathon swim is no small commitment. You need to be prepared to take ten days out of your life, incur insubstantial accommodation and travel costs and then be prepared to spend up to a day and half on a cramped boat, staying up all night on deck watching and feeding the swimmer. They, along with many others, are the unsung heroes of this aquatic endeavour. And that’s leaving out the multiple ten-hour sessions that most of them spent feeding me and watching me circle around in Dover harbour on the cold, wet weekends of our rather derisory recent English summer. I might also add that no expense what-so-ever have come out of your donations. 100% of everything that you donated has gone to the charity. We have all paid our own way with me getting help for the boat’s cost from JM Finn.

I can’t thank them and everybody else enough. Neither can the numerous brain tumour sufferers and staff at The Brain Tumour Charity.

Owen and Laura

As time has progressed my perspective has changed. All I have done really is go for a swim. In my own mind, I have stopped measuring the funds raised in pounds, shillings and pence and started to measure the impact in extra years of life and extra quality years that post-operative brain tumour patients can now enjoy: full mental and physical capacity and able to lead normal lives after their treatment. And that is thanks to you and your donation.

I have shared the thank you videos I received from Owen and Laura. These are the thank you’s that we can all treasure in theirs, my sister Emma’s and every other brain tumour sufferer’s memory.


Thank You Laura
Thank You Owen

Every blessing, thanks and love to all of you.

To be continued in 2022…

Sir John Royden (Grenville 82)

More can be seen at the following: