An Interview with Sir John Royden
Sir John Royden - his journey from a serious ACL injury whilst training to climb Mount Everest to preparing for a 36-hour non-stop swim in Lake Geneva.
John Royden is a driven man. He first swam across the Channel in 1993 – without a wetsuit, as is the custom for cross-Channelers. Over the years, he’s set himself big challenges, mainly, he says, to motivate himself to stay fit and lose weight.
In 2006, having dabbled with mountaineering for years, he decided to take on Everest. While training in the Alps, he fell badly on a Mont Blanc descent. Landing on a rocky slope, he wrenched his knee and ripped his ACL (the anterior cruciate ligament that runs through the middle of the knee). Just under a year later, John climbed up to Everest Base Camp – managing the three-week long trek over unstable, rocky terrain with no pain or difficulty.
It’s a testament to the success of John’s ACL operation that his return to full mountaineering fitness was possible within 12 months after surgery. Simon Moyes – founder and lead surgeon at Capital Orthopaedics – carried out Sir John Royden’s ACL reconstruction. John’s injury was not a straightforward one – other structures had been damaged so badly that he was completely unable to straighten his leg, ‘It was stuck at a 45-degree angle.’ But, with keyhole (arthroscopic) surgical techniques, Simon Moyes carried out an ACL reconstruction using the patella tendon from John’s own knee to replace the damaged ligament.
With the right physiotherapy – in John’s case provided by the highly experienced team at Capital Orthopaedics – recovery from an ACL reconstruction can provide long-term stability and resilience.
As bad luck would have it, a couple of years after his successful ACL surgery, John had a cycling accident and tore the ligament again. ‘A minicab driver opened his car door, I was catapulted over the door, and landed really badly.’ Amazingly, John was able to have a second successful ACL reconstruction – this time, with a graft ligament from a donor.
Two years later, he was back in the Himalayas. ‘I did the Annapurna circuit,’ says John, ‘And my knee was fine. A few years later he walked the Haute Route (Chamonix to Zermatt over the Alps) It only hurt on the last day. Ever since then, though, I have been more careful with my knee. I sold all my mountaineering kit. More because I was getting too fat and old than because of my knees, though!’
Swimming, on the other hand, has been a constant for the last 50 years – which is great news for John’s knees: maintaining strength and flexibility without any impact on the structures of the joint. ‘I enjoy long-distance swimming,’ John says, ‘It doesn’t feel like beasting myself – I get into this semi-hypnotic state. Even without specific training, I could swim forever. In fact, I can swim as well as I can walk.’
Just as well, then – there are very few people who would address a 36-hour non-stop swim in the chilly waters of Lake Geneva without massive apprehension. The rules of the Lake Geneva swim are the same as those for Channel swimmers: you have to have a support boat and two Lake Geneva Swimming Association observers on board, and you have to do it without a wetsuit. Other than massive determination and extraordinary reserves of endurance, John preparation involves plenty of lubrication to stop his skin from rubbing itself raw and growing a beard. Stubble, apparently, will cause massive sores on your shoulders over a swim of that length.
John is raising money for the Brain Tumour Charity – chosen in honour of his sister, who died of an inoperable brain tumour at the age of 30. ‘What particularly impresses me about this charity,’ John explains, ‘Is that it has a strong focus on the analysis of data from other cancer research.’ The Brain Tumour Charity is the largest funder of research into brain tumours globally and offers wide-ranging support to brain tumour sufferers.