In just over a week, I’m about to take on my biggest open water swim challenge to date: the English Channel. I'll be undertaking this as part of relay team made up of 4 swimmers who also happen to be great friends. How the hell did this happen?
How did I allow this to come into my life? I have had the best couple of summers swimming up and down & around Tralee Bay. You would really think that swimming a lap of the buoys in Fenit’s Locke’s Beach or even going round the Lighthouse should really be enough. Right? Well, NO, as it turns out….
In October 2020 When Caroline Corkery asked me if I would be part of a swim relay team for the English Channel, the first question I asked was so naive: “was that the one you had to do in your togs?” The scariest part for me (at that time) was that I would have to lose the safety and security of my wetsuit. I never gave a thought to just how intense, gruelling & difficult the training plan would be, mentally & physically. How training in the pool would literally bring me to my lowest point in the training and reduce me to tears.
I would not be doing this if it were not for the support of my family: they have allowed me to take the time to train and swim and live this dream. There are many mornings that I rise and sneak out of the house to avoid waking anyone. Some mornings I make it back to help out with the school run, some mornings I don’t.
They have gotten so used to me arriving back in, my hands still white with the cold. My 3 year old always always greets me with a very cheery “so how was your swim mom?”
My swim team is awesome - a team of 4 women with varying levels of experience. We are lucky enough to have the globally acclaimed Elaine Burrows Dillane as a member. But throughout this journey I have learned so much from all of my team. Caroline Corkery & Sandra Martin are integral to this challenge and while none of us have anywhere near the experience of Elaine, we have all pushed each other through the last 18 months. So much of the journey has been about staying strong mentally and reminding ourselves of what we have put ourselves through to get to this point.
Kevin Williams has coached us. I’m sure we have put him through the wringer as many times as he us. In May 2021 he told us to just get in and swim. We were like rabbits caught in headlights. Is he talking to us? Take off the wetsuit, take off the tow float, and swim in the bounce? We were A+ students back then at planning our swims - we would look at tide times and weather apps and pick the most suitable (ie easiest) conditions to swim in. We quickly learned that we were doing it all wrong and if we were to succeed at all we had to take a different approach - do the complete opposite of what we had been doing up until that point. What we had to do was get out of our comfort zone, just get in and get used to swimming in any conditions. If the water was flat, it was probably too calm...
In all of this, I have learned so much. That I love swimming in my togs, the feel of the tide around me and how that can change in an instant. That I am stronger for all of the training, both physically and mentally. I have crossed the bay in very different circumstances to 2020: on my own without a kayaker and in very rough conditions. No boardroom or meeting has ever been as scary as some moments I have had in the sea, but every single one of them has made me more robust and clear in my resolve.
So what lies ahead of us? Well we will need to traverse the busiest shipping lane in the world. More people have climbed Mount Everest than have swam across the English Channel. Elaine swam this as a solo swimmer in 2019 and completed the crossing (33.5km) in 12 hours 45 minutes. We will be hoping to do it as a relay in under 16 hours. Our swim window opens Sunday 12th June and closes Sunday 19th June. It will start in Dover, finishing in Calais.
We are the number one slot and will be hoping to get out early in the week. There will be an observer on board who will ensure we follow all the rules - there are rules governing how we enter/exit the water, and how we transition and begin our swim rotation. We cannot touch another swimmer while in the water. Kevin will be the only one allowed to communicate with the swimmer.
In all the times I’ve swam in Fenit I’ve never encountered the Fenit Dolphins - the most I have ever had to contend with are jellyfish and lobster pots. Around 600 tankers and 200 ferries pass through the English Channel every day. I know that I am afraid and excited about the challenge. To be honest, most days I’m more excited than afraid about it. I’m rationalising it in terms of numbers of swimming pools I need to cross.
My 3 year old had no concept of actual swimming pools in 2020 & 2021 because they simply were not open. She had heard of them through her older brother. So when she was at the finish of any swim, she automatically accepted (and referred) to any expanse of open water as a swimming pool. I’m taking this lesson from Iris and telling myself, it’s just another great big swimming pool.
Swimming is the great leveller - it brings all ages, all sorts, all kinds together. I have made great friends through swimming and am so glad for all the memories and great stories we have created but also excited for what comes next.
Did I mention our team name? Fenit Funky Femmes - don’t you dare forget that now!!