The World islands swim in Dubai

We speak to Kate Willoughby ahead of charity efforts

Interview, The Knowledge

Where did the idea to swim round The World come from?
In January last year I got the news that my six-year-old nephew Harrison has been diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I was living in Bahrain at the time and I was told on the phone. I walked outside to the balcony overlooking the water, and I suddenly thought: “I want to do something and I want it to involve water.”’

And what led you to look at The World?

Last August I moved to Dubai and one day I was sitting looking at a magazine. I saw a picture of an island, and thought: “It’s a shame there are no islands in Dubai I can swim round. Hold on – The World islands? Is that possible?”’

So how long will it take?
It should take 12 hours – 7am to 7pm. I’m doing in on November 21 because that’s when the currents are weakest. The route is yet to be decided, but it will be round the whole World, inside the breakwater which is 27km, finishing at Lebanon island.

You’ll be making history.
It’s really exciting – but it’s also terrifying because I don’t know what to expect. There’s no one to really learn from: people talk about the currents, but no one has actually done it. And there are jellyfish. I’ve never been stung and there’s quite a strong possibility I will be.

So what’s your greatest fear?
That I won’t do it! I’ve set myself a goal and I want to achieve it. I want to be a happy news story. I’m also worried about the heat. I’m a pale, pasty English person, and 12 hours in the midday sun is going to be a big thing.

Harrison must be excited to visit Dubai.
I’ve sent him a lot of postcards of camels and Dubai – as a six-year-old I’m not sure how much he really understands, but he seems really excited.

Tell us about his condition.
Generally, boys are diagnosed with DMD aged about three or four, and it’s an incurable fatal disease that causes the loss of muscles. By the age of ten or 12 Harrison will be in a wheelchair, and his life expectancy is the early 20s.

Does he have any idea?
He knows he drinks ‘special juice’, which has his medicine in. They tell him he has ‘poorly muscles’.

What message would you give to other families with a child suffering from DMD?
You’ve got two choices – let it destroy you, or make the best of a bad situation. Just focus on the positives and do all you can. If we can put a man on the moon, we can do anything. If you can conceive it, I believe you can achieve it. If I say in my mind I can do this swim, I can, and if we set our minds on a cure to DMD, we can find it. It’s all possible in our lifetime.
To find out more about Kate’s efforts for charity, see www.swimaroundtheworld.com and www.harrisonsfund.com.

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