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Professor still hopes to swim English Channel this week if weather cooperates

July 16, 2012

George Thornton's whole life has led to this moment, but the weather isn't cooperating with his dream, his son reports.

George Thornton hopes to become the oldest man to swim the English Channel.Living a dream

Thornton, a semi-retired psychology professor at Colorado State University, hopes to become the oldest man to swim the English Channel.

At 72, he hopes to beat the record that 70-year-old Roger Allsopp set last year.

With the weather forecast looking grim, Thornton plans to wait it out - at least for now, his son, Charles, said in an email update to family and friends over the weekend. In his posting, Charles said, "a series of low pressure systems lined up and on their way in. Near gale-force winds coming through the Channel are conflicting with the flow of the currents, causing 6-10' swells and breaking waves. The boat pilot likened it to a washing machine."

 “The English Channel is the iconic long-distance swim,” George Thornton has said. “It’s the ultimate test – what can the body do? It’s just the challenge – that’s the intrinsic part of it."

Thornton has already been practicing informally for the past 12 years swimming the length of Horsetooth Reservoir as part of the Horsetooth 10K Swim, which takes him about four hours. He’s participated in 100 triathlons over the past 20 years, including 12 Ironman events.

Training more recently

More recently, he’s been training in La Jolla, Calif., and Lindenmeier Lake near his home by swimming 12 to 15 hours at a time. He expects the Channel to take 18 hours or more.

While Thornton has been swimming his whole life, he has been seriously training for the Channel for the past two years.

“I’ve got baby pictures of me in the water. I grew up at the YMCA in Dayton, Ohio, and swimming has been part of my family and our activities throughout my life,” Thornton said. “I was out of it for a long time, but for the past 20 years, I’ve been involved in master’s swimming and triathlons.

“My wife says it’s eat, swim, nap, eat, swim, nap. It’s been nearly a full-time occupation.”

A test for individual endurance

Technically, Channel swimming is not a competition – in the water, at least. The association requires swimmers to register and assigns swimmers to a boat captain who is trained to monitor Channel swimmers. On any given day, 10 to 12 swimmers may be in the water, Thornton said, but they’re going different speeds and taking different routes between England and France.

“You have to have a good experienced pilot – he can see all the boats, he knows your speed and takes you on a route that’s hopefully going to get you there,” Thornton said.

He’ll get calories for endurance from a high-carbohydrate liquid thrown to him from the boat every half hour.

There’s a slight chance – if the weather doesn’t cooperate – that Thornton won’t be able to swim at all. The window for Channel swimming is narrow – between June and August – but the water is still only about 59 degrees, he said. He worries a little about his throat getting raw from the saltwater.

He tries to seek inspiration from others to keep him on track.

“I have these little sayings,” Thornton said. “Mark Allen, one of the big triathlon champions said, ‘Pain is temporary, fame is forever.’ Another said it may hurt for an hour or two hours or 10 days afterward, but if you stop, that failure will be with you forever.

“I’ll probably be the slowest – I’m very realistic about it,” Thornton said. “It’s been a great adventure.”

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336