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Professor jumps in at the deep end for cause close to his heart

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Published on 23 July 2018

Professor Kevin Petrie
Professor Kevin Petrie

When Professor Kevin Petrie decided to take on a summer challenge, he really took the plunge.

The University of Sunderland academic, who is head of the School of Art and Design, decided to swap the lecture theatre for the North Sea in memory of his mum.

Now, Kevin has developed a passion for open water swimming that sees him training off the North East coast up to three times a week.

The 48-year-old said: “I’ve been swimming in the pool quite a lot since I was young but a couple of years ago I wasn’t going as regularly and middle age was setting in.

“I was putting on weight, getting a bad back and struggling to lace my shoes in the morning.

“At the time, I read a book on time management that basically said prioritise exercise and do it the morning. I’d previously been swimming after work. So I started getting up earlier and going to the Aquatic Centre in Sunderland three times a week. Over time I built up from swimming 30, 25m lengths to 64 lengths.

“About a year ago, I started to get interested in the idea of open water swimming but didn't really know how to start. I thought I’d need a wet suit but didn’t know where to get one or what kind. A colleague at University of Sunderland Dr Bob Hogg, who is a sports coach, gave me some pointers and in time I got a wetsuit and joined a group Bob was training at Hetton Lyons Lake.

“The next week I was swimming in Seaham Harbour with a Triathlon group. The taste of salt water and getting hit in the face by waves was a bit of a shock but I got used to it. Not long after I signed up to do a mile in the Great North Swim in Windermere and later swims in Derwent Lake and the Serpentine in London.

“Towards the end of last year I started to join triathlon swimmers from SunTri Club who train at Roker Beach on Tuesdays and Friday evenings.”

In September last year Kevin saw an advert for a ‘Bathing Club’ at Fausto Coffee at Roker Beach. He attended the first meeting and over the course of the winter started to swim without a wetsuit.

He added: “Cold water is supposedly good for your immune system and since then I haven’t had a cold. This is a great group of people who are very passionate about swimming – even to the extent of swimming at the 4.20am summer solstice sunrise recently.”

This year, Kevin has set himself a challenge to complete ‘three big swims’ to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer UK. In June this year, he completed the Great North Swim on Lake Windermere, this month he is doing the London Dock-2-Dock race in the Royal Victoria Docks and finishing in September by crossing the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh alongside the iconic Forth Bridge.


Kevin said: “I’m doing this for a challenge and also in the hope of raising some money in memory of my mum who died of pancreatic cancer 10 years ago.

“My husband Allen has also been very supportive by travelling around for these events – the payoff being nice dinners along the way.

“The Dock-2-Dock event in London is the biggest challenge for me at 5km - 3.1miles. There are around 300 people signed up for this event, which involves swimming between two of London’s huge Victorian docks in the Dockland area of London.

“To prepare for this I’m swimming about a mile three times a week and doing Sunday morning swims without a wetsuit with Fausto Bathing Club.

“I’m an artist who makes drawings and paintings and my experience of swimming has also influenced my artworks. What has surprised me is that when you swim in open water you get a different view of the world.

“I’m hoping to show some of these paintings next year at National Glass Centre (NGC).”

To sponsor Kevin visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kevin-petrie