Ex-Wales international Alix Popham swims English Channel after dementia diagnosis

The former Wales international was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2020 and has been raising awareness of sports-related brain injuries ever since. Credit: Alix Popham

Former Wales rugby international Alix Popham is swimming across the English Channel to raise money for and awareness of sports-related brain injuries.

The 43-year-old has joined forces with fellow ex-professional rugby union players to take on ex-professional rugby league players in the relay race this weekend.

The challenge was launched to raise money for his charity Head for Change, which he set up after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2020.

Just last month the father-of-three was taken to hospital after suffering from suspected concussion whilst taking part in Ironman Wales.

Alix swam 21 miles across the English Channel on Sunday morning. Credit: Alix Popham

Alix's team is made up of former Wales lock Ian Gough, Scottish lock Kieran Low, England Rugby 7s captain Ollie Phillips, Ospreys hooker Matt Dwyer and Saracens number eight Ben Pegna.

Dave Tonge of Heathwood Swimming has coached the team while Alix's wife Melanie Bramwell-Popham has managed them.

They are up against former rugby league players Mickii Edwards, Denis Betts, Jason Critchley, Mick Cassidy, Kev Brown and Cliff Eccles.

Alix Popham said: "It's just been an amazing experience. It was very tough this morning starting at 4am, pitch-black and it was quite scary getting in the water.

"The times of the swimmers were a lot slower then but as the day's gone on the weather's been very kind to us, still windy and choppy but it could have been a hell of a lot worse and we made great time.

"I'm just really pleased to almost finish this unbelievable challenge, the support from all the crew encouraging us. We've had music, we've had cheering to get us through and it's a special moment."

Alix and his wife Melanie co-founded the charity Head for Change. Credit: Alix Popham

Their fundraiser states that some of them could not swim a year ago, describing training as "arduous" with the challenge "pushing these athletes beyond their comfort zones".

Though the English Channel swim is 22 miles long, varying tides, rough conditions and changeable weather can bring problems that result in a much longer swim.

Before retiring in 2011, Alix Popham earned 33 caps for Wales, played in two World Cups and a 2008 Grand Slam win.

His charity Head For Change is fundraising for research in the prevention of and cure for early-onset dementia and neurogenerative disease in rugby.

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