Making history: Dubai-based athlete completes 18km, first-of-its-kind swim around Palm Jumeirah

Alex Millington was accompanied by several other professional swimmers as he completed his mission, along with children and people of determination


Nasreen Abdulla

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Photos: Adel Rashid, Lighthousestudio
Photos: Adel Rashid, Lighthousestudio

Published: Sun 20 Nov 2022, 5:42 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Nov 2022, 8:59 AM

A Dubai-based athlete completed a historic 18km open water swim around The Palm Jumeirah on Saturday morning. Several spectators gathered on the shores of Palm West Beach and applauded as CrossFit athlete Alex Millington completed his mission, accompanied by other professional swimmers, youngsters and people of determination.

“Today is something I will remember forever” said Millington after his swim. “Towards the end of the swim, a lot of children of determination joined me. I volunteer with these kids every week. I know that they sometimes refuse to be away from their parents and [are reluctant] to work out, but they were all ready to come into the water and swim with me. That felt truly special.”

Organised to promote inclusivity in sport, Alex said he couldn’t have done the swim at a better time. “With the Dubai Fitness Challenge going on, it was the perfect time,” he said. “Helping people of determination get fitter and healthier positively impacts their lives in so many ways. So it is absolutely integral that we have an inclusive sporting community.” A regular participant of the Gov Games in team Faz3, Alex is a well-known CrossFit athlete in the country.

The swim that has never been attempted before was organised in collaboration with Touch, an inclusive talent agency representing experts and leaders across multiple industries, to celebrate diversity, inclusivity and empowerment in sports.

At sunrise, Millington began swimming from Palm West Beach on Palm Jumeirah towards the left outside crescent around its open waters. He swam in 30-minute intervals was accompanied by a male and female swimmer at all times.

The support swimming team included decorated athletes like two-time gold Paralympian Kevin Paul, Commonwealth gold medalist Mike Bourne, British record holder Perry Gardner, British relay medalist Izabella Blacklock, two-time silver and bronze British nationals winner Rhianna Bennett and 18-year-old swimmer and fifth in the World Oceanman Championships rankings Janna Ashgari.

“It was the most incredible thing,” said Ayman Hossameldin, a former water polo player who had joined Alex on the last leg of the swim. “Seeing the kids there and cheering for them really made my day. We wanted to make the kids feel [like] they are welcome anywhere and they can do anything they set their mind to – even be a part of a historic swim.”

Ayman Hossameldin
Ayman Hossameldin

Touching People’s Lives

Alex had the idea to do the swim in 2020 but couldn’t figure out how to do it by himself. “There is a lot of organisation and permits involved,” he said. “When I brought it up with Touch, they were willing to take care of all the organisational hurdles.”

Millington, Hossameldin and several other athletes also volunteer with Touch every week to exercise with the people of disability. A fitness coach at CrossFit Alioth, Millington gets the children to come to his gym every week. “We do some strength, cardio and mobility exercises,” he said. “It is amazing to see how the exercises positively impact not just their health but also their mental wellbeing.”

Jean Winter, founder of Touch, said that she decided to represent people of determination after realising that no one represents them. “Brands approach them and ask them to do promotions for free,” she said. “I wanted that to change. We started with two children and now there are 37, with a waiting list.”

Winter with Millington after the swim
Winter with Millington after the swim

When it represents a talent, the agency asks them for acts of kindness in return. “Every week we have activities for the children,” she said. “Some of our talents come in and help the kids in whatever way they can. We have over 90 volunteers that support us on a regular basis.”


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