Swim the channel - avoiding jellyfish and ferries

What makes you decide to swim the channel? To cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and what does it do to you? Add to that, its 34 km of sea and the furthest you’ve ever swam is 2 miles! And, you are due to swim it in two months. How does this work!  

“More people climb Mount Everest than swim the channel solo,” says Tina Campbell who is swimming the channel to raise money for St Michaels. She then tells me and that her team are doing it the easy way, by doing it in relay. But she quickly adds “It doesn’t feel like the easy way.”




Swim the channel - it makes me slightly teary now

The day before we chatted she’d watched a video of a solo channel swimmer finishing the challenge.

“He got out of the water in France and I was crying watching the video. The idea of actually making it to France….See -it makes me slightly teary now. I can’t believe that that time will actually come.” she adds shaking her head. “Two years, I’ve been thinking about this and I literally think about it three times an hour. For two years…can you imagine?”

It really is going to be an incredible feat. Like Tina says, they are just normal people doing this extraordinary thing, to prove something to themselves and to also help a lot of other people by raising lots of money.

A seed is planted

A county back stroke swimmer in her youth, she left the pool when children and work took over. Then about 4 years ago, a friend asked her to swim the serpentine.  She found outdoor swimming a welcome release from every day pressures and place to feel at peace.

It was during these reinvigorating swims that a seed was planted that grew into the challenge she faces in July this year- The English Channel. I can’t imagine this swim will be as peaceful as Tooting Bec Lido on a Sunday morning and neither does she. In fact, when she first looked into swimming the channel she decided it would be too much.

Swimming through shoals of jellyfish!

“I read about it and went off it completely because it is so difficult and so long and so cold and there’s jelly fish, stuff in the water, ferries. And I thought ‘no, no this is far too hard.”

But the seed was there and it wouldn’t go away. So two years ago she convinced herself and her two swimming friends, Annie and Karen (who luckily are always up for a challenge) to have a go at the channel. They found two other willing swimmers, Jo and Nikki and formed the team they call Les Cinq Doris. (Doris being a sea nymph in Greek Mythology and the 'Les Cinq' franglais added to make it sound more glamorous – which Tina assures me it isn’t! It’s all tight googles and swimming caps)  

How does it work?

I was quite shocked when Tina told me the furthest she had swum in one go was just 2 miles. Until she explained how the relay process works. Each member of the team will swim for an hour and then wait on the boat until it is their turn again. The rules surrounding this challenge are immense any number of mishaps and the challenge will be canceled.

Imagine, you’ve just warmed up and now you are slowly lowering yourself back into the cold water, readying yourself to swim for another hour. What can you do to help keep you focused, to keep you going? Tina tells me she and Anne both have the tune from the film Finding Nemo on a loop. The one sang by the forgetful fish, Dory – “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming.” A nice reminder if at any time Tina forgets what she’s supposed to be doing!

Seasickness a huge worry

I asked Tina what she was most worried about - she said it wasn’t the cold or the sea or what’s in the sea. It’s letting people down – by not making it. Maybe getting too sea sick and not being able to carry on. One of the most common reason a channel relay is canceled is because a swimmer starts struggling with seasickness. Thankfully, they can take sea sickness tablets and it sounds like Tina has got all those bases covered!

Why she chose us?

We were really delighted when we got the call from Tina saying she wanted to find out more about what we do because she was looking for a local charity to support. She had heard about us through a friend.

“I haven’t done anything like this in my life before. I have never pushed myself like this and I wanted every stroke to count. I wanted to raise money not for some massive corporate charity, I wanted it make a big difference to the people near where I live.

“I have four daughters and I was quite keen that the money I raised helped women. And I heard about St Michaels and it absolutely hit the brief you make a real difference to real people.

Best Advice?

The support for Tina and the team has been overwhelming, you get a real sense of that talking to Tina and watching some of the footage they’ve shot during training and seeing the donations. I asked her what the best bit of advice she had been given

“In everything that we have read and all the people we have met, who have been so supportive, in the channel swimming community is ‘Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail’ We have prepared and prepared and prepared and I really do think we will be ready. We’ve put the hours in.”

What matters?

So how does focusing this hard, on something this intense, for two years change you and your outlook on things.

“The small things in life don’t matter. You know one can get wound up about silly things. You know when you have got a big challenge like this going on, everything else pales into insignificance really. And I have become a lot calmer, I think. Swimming and doing lots of exercise lets you find a clam place. It’s interesting… I would really recommend swimming the channel,” she laughs, “It’s been an amazing, amazing journey.

Looking for a crazy challenge - swim the channel

If you fancy taking up a challenge like this and raising some money for us we would be extremely grateful. And, like Tina says, she would recommend it. Training for a challenge like this is definitely going to get you some me time -with all those hours of training (even if it is in a freezing cold lake). Do let us know if you have any ideas!

In the meantime, the best of luck to Tina and the rest of Les Cinq Doris. We will keep everyone posted about how you are doing. 

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