Dover – A waiting game

Sitting in the Guest house waiting for our slot. The hardest bit is always waiting! Early on we were told we may be going on Friday night, I began mentally preparing myself for the swim, all the ‘what if’ questions went through my head, what if I am sick? What if getting on and off the boat is too difficult? What if I struggle to get round on the boat? I couldn’t stay in one place for 18 hours! I tried to calm myself down like I always do before a big event; listen to music and try to seperate and understand why I’m having the thoughts I am so that I can reduce the risk of anything I’m worrying about.

First I needed to address sea sickness. I had become so anxious about being sick that it was starting to make me feel sick, so, I knew if I got on the boat I would automatically be sick.

My Room/Apartment in The Churchill Guest House

I had my reasons to be anxious, sea sickness is what stopped me swimming 14 years ago (2008) when I first took on the English Channel relay. I was sick for 16 hours straight and despite being 15 at the time I still remember sitting on the top deck of the boat and phoning my mum at 3am in the morning asking her if I should swim or not. If I swam but then felt too sick to swim again, the whole team would fail. If I didn’t swim, 2 years of training was utterly pointless and a waste. I decided to put the team first. I was heartbroken and it left me in a dark place, it was my first experience of failure in an event and at the time I struggled.

Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards 2008 Channel Team

In reality, looking back on it now, I may not have swum, but I had learnt so much about myself by making the decision to put the team first. So, how could I make myself less anxious about sea sickness? As daft as it sounds, simply by accepting that I would be sea sick. I have the knowledge that I can swim and do an event even if I feel like crap, am poorly and in pain. I have learnt so much through swimming events and life with a disability that whatever happened during the swim, I would swim this time, nothing would stop me. It meant that although being sick isn’t particularly pleasant I would swim because I have never been seasick while swimming so getting in and swimming would at least give me an hour of not being sick!

Next was my worry about getting on and off the boat, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, I knew roughly what the situation would be and I knew that the guys in the team would help me get back onboard. I had Dean who would help me on and off the boat and we had prepared for it the best we could. I just needed to accept that I would likely need help and it would not be elegant and that was ok. I also had worries about getting round on the boat but they were a bit stupid, its a boat. It’s not big, I didn’t need to get around because there was nowhere to go!! I was going to have my crutches on the boat if I needed them but the likelihood was that I would be able to furniture crawl the whole time anyway.

Going through those things and a few other worries in combination with listening to my event playlist calmed me and I felt ready to go, but then we got the message saying we weren’t going anywhere. The adrenaline and excitement came crashing down.

The waiting continued.

Two days later we finally got the call telling us we would be leaving at 2.30am on Sunday morning! The adrenaline was pumping again, this time having already gone through my fears and concerns it was pure excitement and adrenaline. Finally, after 14 years I was going to do a relay channel swim and actually swim, not only that, I was thrilled to be doing it with the Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards. My open water journey started with them as a teenager and although I have been through so much in the past 14 years and I hadn’t seen them for years and they had never seen me in a wheelchair, I was treated the same as everyone else, as if nothing at all had changed.

I was doing the swim with someone that taught me to swim as a kid, he then taught me to teach swimming as a teenager. Another member taught me lifeguarding as a teenager, introduced me to open water swimming and did the first channel swim with me. He is also the person that my parents blame for me always wanting to do bigger and better events and in some ways, to me as a teenager he was someone to look up to and someone that showed me you never give up. The final member of the team that I knew was a lifeguard at the pool I swam at for most of my life, he had hardly changed at all! The final member of the team was someone I had only met on Zoom and I didnt know much about him other than he was an artist, lifeguard, at one point lived in London and was also a synchronised swimmer.

(left to right) Lee Haines, Miles Coote, Lee Cornelius, Dean Baker (infront) Sophie Etheridge

I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to swim with.

I double checked that I had everything I needed and on Saturday morning headed out to the Dover Regatta to try and make myself tired enough to sleep for a few hours in the afternoon, since I would be awake all night! I had a lovely morning, I got to chat to the RLSS about a few things I have been looking into and also got to look round the small business stalls and bought a couple of presents. After that, I headed to a local pub for a big lunch so I had, had a decent meal that day. After that, it was back to the Churchill Guest House for a nap! I managed to get about 3 hours sleep but then was just too excited and the adrenaline was too much for me to be able to sleep anymore.

I got up at about 7pm and it felt like hours and hours had passed by. I put on my Sea Bands and by the time I finally got the message saying the rest of the team were on their way to Dover. I triple checked all my stuff, spoke to my parents and my sister and tried my best to distract myself from the fact that in a couple of hours time I would be sitting on a boat in the English Channel! I eventually got the message saying they were nearby and went out to meet them. We chucked everything in the car and drove to Dover Harbour, taking the scenic route. We had the tour of Dovers roundabouts…twice, before we found where we were actually meant to be!

We couldn’t work out where to park or stop and there was no one about so we called the pilot and woke him up! They had only been in the harbour for about 30 minutes and were grabbing a nap whilst they could. We took a few photos and headed down to the boat. I decided the ramp was too long for me to walk down so went down in my chair and as a result of saying I would be fine controlling my chair going down the hill that steep I ended up with lovely friction burns on my fingers and at one point thought I was going to fall out of my chair and face plant the floor. We got onto the pontoon and grabbed another photo by the boat before putting all our stuff onboard.

The boat was narrower than I remembered but that could just have been because I am much bigger now than I was then. I got on, found/claimed my seat for the journey and plonked thinking “just get out the harbour without being sick, make it to Shakespeare Bay and have the first swimmer in the water starting before you’re sick” and thankfully I did!

Once we were all organised and settled we shouted goodbye to the people onshore and we were off! After 14 years of unfinished buisness with the English Channel it was time to finish it.

Yellow Dot – Dean Baker starting the relay
White/Green Light – From the boat

This swim was to fundraise money so Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards can purchase a new rescue boat so that they can continue to offer safety cover for events and there is still time to donate – https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/campaign/50th-anniversary-cross-channel-swim

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