A former standout high school swimmer from the Miles River Yacht Club has just achieved a world record. Nik Haynes, a 1996 graduate of St. Michaels High School, swam the backstroke across the English channel faster than anyone has before.
The English channel is 21 miles at its narrowest point from England to France. Haynes completed the swim in 12 hours, 52 minutes, and 41 seconds last Friday, August 7. And in doing so, he raised well over $5,000 for WaterAid, an organization that provides clean water and sanitation in countries worldwide.
Haynes’ support crew posted short video clips documenting his progress through the swim. Watch below:
Haynes, who now lives in the UK with his wife and two children, grew up swimming competitively on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and was part of the Talbot County YMCA’s (TCY) first large group to go to Y Nationals in 1994. He was “the backstroker of the group,” Haynes tells Bay Bulletin. Backstroke has always been his stroke. “I still hold the record at TCY 24 years later!”
So backstroke was a natural choice for the swimmer’s record attempt. Interestingly, Haynes credits the COVID-19 pandemic with allowing him to get especially well-prepared for the effort.
“The cold water was the toughest part for me,” he explains. “Lockdown meant all pools were closed, so to train I had to go into the cold sea. The closed pools really forced my hand.” And train he did—telling us, “I spent 141 hours swimming in the sea in calendar year 2020 training for this.”
In July alone, Haynes clocked 45.5 hours backstroking in the sea. In a Facebook post just before he began his swim, Haynes wrote, “If I’m not ready to backstroke to France now, I never will be!”
This wasn’t Haynes’ first attempt at such a lofty goal. He began the swim in 2015, but wasn’t able to complete it due to hypothermia. He says this time around, conditions were as good as they can possibly be in the channel.
His support boat was vital. Two experienced crew followed along, feeding and keeping tabs on Haynes. Since the rules for a record attempt prohibit a swimmer from touching the support boat or any person, Haynes’ crew tossed him squirt bottles to keep him going.
Friends and family back on Maryland’s Eastern Shore were rooting for Haynes from afar (his parents still live there). Fellow St. Michaels High School alumni shared the Facebook page following his journey, expressing their pride and congratulations.
And plenty of folks also expressed their support for Haynes’ effort by donating to WaterAid, his charity of choice.
“I raised money for WaterAid because I’m a geography teacher and when I teach about international development I always teach about their awesome work,” Haynes tells us.
“During a lesson in 2014 a student asked what I do to support them personally and my answer left him unimpressed so I started thinking of ways I could do a big fundraiser, inspire the students and give myself a challenge at the same time. That’s how the idea [for the first swim attempt] was born.”
As of Tuesday, the fundraiser had received more than $5,100.
-Meg Walburn Viviano