Photo gallery: Blind rock climber wins Christmas Day swim race at Hampstead Heath bathing ponds

Male swimmers flex their muscles before their race. Picture: Dieter Perry

Male swimmers flex their muscles before their race. Picture: Dieter Perry - Credit: Archant

A blind rock climber defied expectations to win his first ever competitive swimming race - after he joined dozens who plunged into icy waters for the traditional Christmas Day dip at Hampstead Heath’s bathing ponds.

A record number of men and women stripped to their swimsuits to race against each other for trophies - and their pride - at the men’s pond on Thursday, where the water temperature was a chilly 5C (41F).

Regular pond swimmer and crime author Red Szell, who recently became a professional blind rock climber, triumphed in the Highgate Lifebuoys race, a competition between members of the well-established club.

Mr Szell, of Gayton Street, Hampstead, said: “The club kindly let me join so I wouldn’t be in the general melee, and so less likely to kill or be killed.”

The 45-year-old added: “It was a wonderful surprise to win, like an early Christmas present before coming home. It made up for me coming back late for the Christmas lunch!”

“I couldn’t have done this without the lifeguards. I’m incredibly grateful to them.”

About 130 swimmers took part in three races, while hundreds watched on from the pond’s banks.

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They were rewarded with hot mulled wine and mince pies served up by the lifeguards after finishing their swim.

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