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24-hour swim challenge in memory of Black Country Triathletes’ coach


A West Midlands based triathlon club will be staying up through the night over the festive period as they come together to swim 24 miles in teams of two to raise money in memory of their former swimming coach.

Alan Bagnall coached swimming at Black Country Triathletes for over 20 years before he sadly passed away in September this year after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) earlier this summer.

Now the club, who are based in Wombourne, south of Wolverhampton, have set themselves a swim challenge of completing 24 miles in teams of two over a 24-hour period from 28-29 December to raise money for and awareness of Motor Neurone Disease Association.

“We decided to do the charity swim as soon as we found out Alan had been diagnosed with MND,” Andy Southall, Chairman of Black Country Triathletes, said. “It needed to be a swim challenge for Alan, it needed to be just Black Country Triathletes members because of our link to Alan and I wanted to make it so it was hard enough for people who may sponsor us to appreciate that what we’re doing is quite an effort.

“We have over 50 people committed to doing the swim who will be in the teams. We’re going to be doing it from 12 o’clock on Wednesday 28 until 12 o’clock the following day in teams of two with each team alternating who swims the mile every hour. We are going to have a couple of lanes where ex club members or members who don’t feel like they’re able to swim the full event can just jump in and do a mile.

“We are only club swimmers. Most of us swim a maximum of twice a week so it is quite an undertaking for us all on an individual level. There’s a complete cross section of club members who have put their names down and are trying to complete this challenge which is going to be pretty tough. Not only that, but most of us haven’t been up all night since we were in our teens so that’s a challenge in itself.”

During his two decades at the club, Bagnall coached hundreds of the club members in the pool, and was still writing coaching programmes for the club even after his diagnosis.

“Alan has helped hundreds of people through the triathlon club,” Southall added. “Alan was of the opinion that rather than take everything back to basics just make the most of what you’ve got and improve by swimming recognising that we haven’t all got the mobility, the range of movements to swim like Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky.

“He would give us a few tips, a few pointers and just encourage us to work. Over the years we’ve had people turn up who have had a little bit of fitness but are only able to swim a couple of lengths breaststroke, or a couple of lengths front crawl and with Alan’s guidance and encouragement and coaching they’ve gone onto achieve phenomenal things from a personal achievement point of view.

“For some of the members, swimming in open water for IRONMAN events, they wouldn’t have dreamt that would have been possible when they first walked through the door but that’s the sort of thing that a coach gives people. It gives them the ability to achieve their ambitions but also, especially with swimming because it’s so much confidence based, the confidence with in themselves grows which they can then take and use in everyday life. I don’t think Alan ever realised what a huge impact he’s had on so many people’s lives.”

The club have currently raised over £6,000 and have received support from former rugby league player Kevin Sinfield, who has completed his own ultra-challenges for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

To find out more about the challenge and to donate, please visit the fundraising page here.

Anyone who would like to show support is welcome to swim during the following time slots in return for a donation. Drop-in lanes will be available from 5-9pm on Wednesday 28 December and 6-10am on Thursday 29 December.

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