Blades chaplain has a passion for the great outdoors

Alistair Beattie. Picture by John Anderson
Alistair Beattie. Picture by John Anderson
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When Alistair Beattie started to feel unfit and out of shape, he took drastic action to try and boost his exercise levels by launching himself into an Olympic-style triathlon.

The church minister, who acts as Sheffield United’s chaplain, quickly developed a passion for open water swimming - and, five years on, barely a day goes by when he isn’t completing lengths in sometimes challenging conditions.

He has also notched up an achievement which few others around the world can lay claim to by swimming an ‘ice mile’ in perishing temperatures of less than four degrees.

Now Alistair, who lives in Arbourthorne, is preparing to swim the English Channel in September, battling through 21 miles of open water and strong tidal currents in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes while wearing only basic gear.

Furthermore he has helped to set up a new company called Swim Your Swim, which aims to demonstrate to others the thrill of swimming safely in the great outdoors.

“To be able to roll on your back in the middle of the ocean or a lake, and look up and see the incredible sky and the beauty all around just inspires me and makes we want to swim and swim,” said Alistair.

The 41-year-old started swimming as a teenager but stopped ‘for various reasons’, he said.

“I picked it up again about five years ago. I said to a colleague that I felt really unfit and fat, so he ‘stole’ my iPad and my credit card and signed me up for an Olympic triathlon.

“I had seven months to train for it and it was the swimming which really took my heart. From then on I’ve started to set myself challenges each year of things to do.”

His first race was in the River Dee in Chester, so as well as training in Ponds Forge sports centre Alistair needed to acclimatise himself to open water.

He joined the Yorkshire Outdoor Swimmers at Harthill Reservoir, and also practises at a venue in Hatfield, Doncaster.

“People expect to jump in and it will be just like a pool but it’s not,” he said.

“The temperatures are so different so your body will go into cold water shock, where the first thing the body does is breathe in, meaning water goes into the lungs. That’s why a lot of people die.

“The general rule is never to go open water swimming on your own - always be with somebody with experience of the location. You don’t know how deep the water is or where it’s going to go.”

However, Alistair has form for taking risks himself. The ice mile - swimming a mile non-stop in temperatures under five degrees - pushes athletes to the limits of endurance.

“It’s quite a marathon task, on the verge of dangerous really,” said Alistair - who completed the challenge in November 2013 at Treeton Dyke, becoming only the 65th person in the world to do so.

“It took me 35 minutes to swim the distance. The science and studies would say that around 45 minutes in water of that temperature is the threshold of what a human being can survive.

“It’s reaching the point of hypothermia, where the body shuts down and tries to maintain the core body temperature.”

A team of supporters was on hand to pull Alistair from the water and quickly provide him with clothes and hot drinks to warm up.

“Once we’d realised what we’d accomplished we were just overwhelmed,” he added.

The channel swim promises to be similarly daunting, but Alistair has already taken part in a relay event so is already familiar to some of the quirks of the route.

“It is 21 miles as the crow flies but with the tides and the currents being as they are, you end up swimming up to 30 miles depending on the weather,” he said.

Alistair is collecting sponsorship money for Links International and its project to deliver safe water to people in developing countries.

“Pure water is something that we take for granted. When I did the channel relay I swam past a fridge, a hat and lots of rubber gloves - you see what goes into the channel. It’s quite unsafe.”

As well as acting as the chaplain for the Blades - offering ‘encouragement and compassion’ to the staff and players - Alistair is a minister for the Miracle Trust, which runs the recently-launched Arbourthorne Community Church.

He lives with his wife Caroline and their sons Joseph, 13, Matthew, 10 and daughter Elloise, eight.

“Because there’s an element of faith to my life, to be out in the water is really to have a sense of awe at the incredible world that we’re part of,” he said.

n Visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/swimforsafewater to sponsor.