On the 25th of August 1875 Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel. On the 21st of August 2018, after 13 hours and six minutes of swimming, I became the 1919th person to do the same thing. Matthew Webb famously stated that ‘Nothing great is easy’ and I have to say that I understand this sentiment very clearly now.
The English Channel is approximately 21 miles across, but tides and currents generally make the distance covered significantly longer before you reach the shores of France. To conquer the Channel, you will face many challenges such as waves, jellyfish and cold water, but the most significant challenge is the mental battle. I love open water swimming, it gives me a sense of solitude and freedom, but it can also be a lonely place, especially when you are in the middle of the Channel and have been swimming for hours with no sight of land.
Why would anyone want to swim the Channel?
My journey started about five years ago. I am a Father of two beautiful girls and Katie (my youngest) has a rare medical condition called Septo Optic Dysplasia. From the age of one, Katie has been attending the Hannah Payne RDA group in Mears Ashby. Caroline Payne and her team have made a huge difference to Katie and many other Children with varying challenges. One of the reasons for my swim was to try and give something back to this amazing group for all the support they have provided. I also wanted to prove something to myself and my girls ….. You can achieve ANYTHING if you set your mind to it.
After years of training in lakes, rivers and the sea, my day had arrived. I remember standing on the Beach at Samphire Hoe in Dover wondering what on earth I was thinking. Channel rules allow one standard swimming costume, a swim cap and as much Vaseline as you need to help with the salt water chaffing (lovely). A horn sounded and I set off on my swim.
The first few hours of the swim were difficult. Conditions were worse than expected and I knew I had a long way to go. I found a rhythm and tried to muffle the doubting voices in my head telling me that it was not my day. The sight of my Father on the boat alongside me provided a huge lift – every boy wants to make his Father proud.
About 6 hours into the swim, the sun began to peak through the clouds and my mood began to lift. As I swam, I could see hundreds of large jellyfish and they certainly provide a distraction from the task at hand. I had the pleasure of being stung several times to remind me that ‘nothing great is easy’.
I was ‘feeding’ on the hour (a powdered energy drink thrown to me on a string) and making sure that I kept feed stops under one minute to avoid getting cold. On my eighth feed, I looked up and could see France in the distance. I knew that it was very far away, but there it was – NOTHING WAS GOING TO STOP ME NOW.
The rest of the swim is a blur, keep moving forwards, keep turning your arms over as every stroke is taking you that little bit closer to your dream. I looked up – The boat had stopped, and I had 800 metres to go! I had tears in my goggles for those last few minutes as I knew I had done it. The water suddenly warmed up as I entered the shallows and tentatively got to my feet (well sort of – It is very hard to stand up after being horizontal in the sea for 13 hours). I walked to the beach, cleared the water and a horn sounded for the second time. This is one of the most emotional moments of my life – Relief, elation and huge gratitude for all of the support. I danced around like a child, picked up a pebble from the beach and swam slowly back to the boat. I boarded the boat and embraced my Father. We had done this together!
Nobody swims the Channel alone – My family made this possible and allowed me to head off to training almost every day to achieve this dream. Support since the swim has been overwhelming to say the least.
Next for me is setting up a swim business at Brixworth country park to help others achieve their goals (however big or small those goals may be).