The Swimathon Foundation History

The start of Swimathon

A pilot Swimathon event took place in 1986. It aimed to replicate the success of the London Marathon as a way of encouraging Londoners to take up regular exercise and inspire swimmers to use their local swimming pools to train for the challenge of 5,000 metres. 

Two years later, in 1988, Graham Batterham teamed up with Olympic Gold Medallist Duncan Goodhew MBE and together, working alongside pool managers, charities and sponsors, turned Swimathon into the national event it is today. 

“The success of the pilot event clearly showed Swimathon had enormous potential to achieve the twin objectives of promoting swimming as a healthy sport and raise money for good causes. By linking with Great Ormond Street’s ‘Wishing Well Appeal’ and gaining the support of Princess Diana in that year, it gave the new concept of Swimathon the springboard it needed to become the national event it is today”Graham Batterham, Advisor to the Trustees 

Thanks to the support of major sponsors, in particular BT (1991 – 2001), Swimathon was able to grow and develop nationally and in 1997 the Swimathon Foundation was formed to secure the event’s future and to administer the charitable funds raised. Since then it has only continued to grow, raising £2.2 million in 2019.

The birth of the Swimathon Foundation

Founded in 1997,  the Swimathon Foundation brings together swimmers of all ages and abilities with two simple aims: to spread the joys and benefits of swimming whilst raising money for some of the UK’s most deserving charities. What started out as an initiative to increase swimmer numbers in local authority pools has grown over the years into the world’s largest fundraising pool based swimming event, bringing together hundreds of communities to promote the benefits of swimming and raise vital funds for many national charities.

Looking to the Future

The Swimathon Foundation has exciting plans for the future of the event and in the last few years had announced a series of partnerships to expand the size and reach of the Swimathon Foundation including:

  • A partnership with Swim England (formerly the Amateur Swimming Association) to jointly develop and promote a School Swimathon. School Swimathon aims to promote swimming to children under the banner ‘Swim your Best’. Since its inception in 2016 School Swimathon has seen over 35,000 pupils involved with the campaign.
  • The Swimathon Foundation announced that Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie will be the official charity partners of Swimathon until 2021.
  • A new four-year contract with its Event Management contractors Limelight Sports to continue to develop the Swimathon event experience with our long-standing delivery partnership.
  • The launch of Open Water Swimathon in September 2017, taking the successful Swimathon challenge in to the increasingly popular open water environment. In 2019 over 2,500 participants took part, whilst raising £80,000 for charity.
  • Marathon Swims joined the Swimathon family of events in late 2019 and is scheduled to take place, for the first time as a member of the Swimathon family of events, in November 2020. Marathon Swims is an annual competitive event taking place at the London Aquatics Centre, aimed in particular at serious ultra-distance swimmers. See here.


1986 LBC Swimathon

The first ever Swimathon event is held in just 12 London Pools establishing 5,000m as the marathon swim challenge distance and raising £70,000 for its nominated charity, Phipps Respitory Patients Association.

1988 Penguin Biscuits Swimathon (1988/89)

Swimathon partners with Great Ormond Street Hospital’s ‘Wishing Well Appeal ‘and United Biscuits’ popular Penguin brand and is launched at a special gala event held at the Queen Mother Sports Centre in London, attended by HRH Diana Princess of Wales.

1990 Cadburys Chocolate Break Swimathon

Swimathon goes national, with the support of all the ITV regional broadcasters and presents a fundraising cheque for £500,000 to the Telethon live on the show, the largest single donation of the campaign.

1991 BT Swimathon (1991 - 2001)

BT choose Swimathon as the flagship of their Community Involvement Programme for the next decade, sponsoring the event for eleven years and raising over £15 million for a variety of causes nominated by the company.

Swimmers break the £1 million fundraising for the first time in 1992 in aid of ChildLine, British Red Cross and British Sports Association for the Disabled and the £2 million level in 1998 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

1998 BT Blue Peter Childrens Swimathon (1998/9)

Swimathon teams up with the BBC’s Blue Peter and attracts over 100,000 children to take part in a shortened challenge event, raising over £500,000 for charities including the NSPCC.

2003 Butlins Swimathon (2003/4)

The newly formed Swimathon Foundation partners with iconic British holiday destination Butlins to bring some additional fun and games to its swimmers with events regularly attended by its famous ‘Redcoats’.

2006 Swimathon in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care (2006 - 2013)

The Swimathon Foundation selects MCCC to start a long term fundraising partnership to raise funds for its work with Cancer patients across the UK, raising over £14 million.

2014 Swimathon supports Marie Curie and Sport Relief (2014 - 2017)

The Swimathon Foundation's long standing partnership with Marie Curie continues as Sport Relief is introduced. Marie Curie and Sport Relief alternate years as the official charity partner of Swimathon.

2017 Swimathon celebrates its 30th Anniversary

2018-2021 Marie Curie & Cancer Research UK named Charity Partners