Sunday rolled round and I was actually a little nervous, I had already completed my 6 hour qualifier swim for my channel swim so there was less pressure on me to swim for 6 hours but I was tired and sore after a busy few days. The organiser had found somewhere to borrow a beach wheelchair from at Coney Beach/Sandy Bay, Porthcawl for the day, because of the tides changing I would either have to walk a long way to get in or a long way to get out. Having the wheelchair meant that I could get to and from the sea both before and after the 6-hour swim, although I had never used a beach wheelchair before so I was a little nervous. We turned up at the beach around 9am and waited for the wheelchair, whilst waiting we decided we might as well have a laugh!
Once we got the chair and got it onto the sand Tom started trying to push me across the sand, but he couldn’t move me. In the end he had to pull me across the sand, and it was bloody hard work for him, especially given he couldn’t steer it. There was nothing I could do to help though as the wheels where balloon wheels, so they had no push rims on them. We arrived at a spot we thought would be above the incoming tide line and all got changed, double checked our feeds were organised and labelled, covered ourselves in sun cream and headed into the water for the start of a long day.
The first thing that stood out to me was how shallow the water was, I was hoping to walk in a couple of meters and then be able to start swimming. Instead, one of the other swimmers supported me getting in and it was still only knee deep after walking what felt like 25m! In the end I just went for it and set off swimming towards the sea wall.
We were told to swim across the bay from the sea wall to a building (possibly a light house – I can’t remember!). It wasn’t too far to the wall and obviously as normal every few strokes I was sighting to see where I was going and on one of these occasions I thought I heard someone shouting at me. I imagined I was just hearing things and kept swimming, but on the next breath I definitely heard someone shouting f**k off at me. I had a look around to make sure I wasn’t in the way of a boat or SUP or something else, but I saw no one. Next, I heard “f**k off, you’re scaring the fish away” at which point I was almost at the sea wall so looked up and saw a group of old blokes fishing. I shouted up and asked them what their problem was to be told that we were in their way and we should f**k off and swim elsewhere. Now normally I don’t have an issue with people fishing, there is plenty of water to go around and if they had asked if I minded swimming a little further away, I would have with no problem at all. However, they were swearing at me and being very abusive towards me. Plus one of the other swimmers who has a hearing impairment was closer to the wall then I was and I was concerned he would get caught in one of their lines (likely because they put it there on purpose). I told them to just give me a moment to swim to the other person to explain as he couldn’t hear the shouting but instead was told we shouldn’t be swimming there; we were in their way, and we should “f**k off because we could go and swim somewhere else”. So, I informed them that they could go and fish somewhere else and I carried on swimming to the other person and ignored them swearing at us. I eventually caught up with the other swimmer and we turned and heading in shore a little further because the fishermen were aiming their lines at us! For some reason the whole encounter really got to me, I was fuming. There was no need to be rude, they could have just asked us if we minded swimming somewhere else and I would have had no issue. I decided on the way back past our spotters on the shore I would swim in and tell them to warn the other swimmers about them so that no one risked getting caught in a line or experienced what I had!
It took a while, but I did eventually calm down and start focusing more on my swimming instead of being angry. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was actually quite refreshing to be in the sea and I kept thinking about how lucky I was to be there. One of my main reasons for doing another 6-hour swim was to work out and trial my new feeds. After the talk from the nutritionist and talking to the other swimmers that had swum the channel before I decided to change the time of my first feed from 2 hours (the time I had been advised to feed in Dover) down to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
I kept my other feed times the same and fed on approx. 250ml of Maltodextrin every hour and every other hour also had some solid food (jelly babies, flapjack and a small chocolate brownie) and my painkillers. It worked really well and for the first time I didn’t feel hungry before my first feed. I do still need to figure out what solid food I am going to have alongside my usual jelly babies because apart from the brownie which gave me a much-needed boost at hour 4 I felt the others didn’t add a great deal.
After the yummy brownie I set off again, however, where the tide had turned, I didn’t realise how shallow the water was. As I turned to start swimming I some-how caught my foot in a wave or maybe on the floor, I don’t know, but whatever it was it made me scream underwater in pain. It was agony and I was almost in tears, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it. From then on it was a real mental game, my body was screaming at me to stop and to get out because of the pain in my foot and leg but I kept telling myself that this could happen on the day of my swim, and it was good practice. I am fully aware that its likely that as the time goes on when I am swimming the channel and I am thrown about by waves, its likely my pain will get worse and worse through the swim so I just kept telling myself that it was good practice for that situation and it was important that I kept going to prove to myself no matter my CRPS pain levels I can keep going and get to France!
I came in for my final feed and was really struggling and in so much pain that I almost got out but I told myself my goal was 6 hours, I had done 5 so that last hour was nothing. I fed quickly and started swimming again. By this point there were a lot of other people in the water on stand-up paddleboards, some weird kind of wind surfer, boats going in and out of the harbour and lots of kids just having fun. It was nice to see so many at the beach, but it was a faff to constantly swim round and keep an eye on them because self-awareness seemed to be lacking. I kept swimming, although I felt like I was hardly moving and I had to keep trying to find more comfortable ways to stop my left leg going all over the place and being hit by my tow float because that made it even worse. About 30min into the last hour I started clock watching counting down the minutes until I had made it to 6 hours! Tom came in the water with the rescue board to offer encouragement and he asked how I was feeling and I basically swam past him because I knew that if I stopped swimming I likely wouldn’t start again!
Finally we had just 5 minutes left, at which point my watch died. The other ladies that had stayed in the water for the full 6 hours (all the blokes got out – girl power!) swam over to me and said that it would be nice for us all to go to the shore together as a group, so, that’s what we did. Arriving in the shallows Tom was there to meet me with my crutches as we got out the water to cheering and clapping from the rest of the group, it was such a lovely feeling. Hugs all round, photos, celebrations and there were nothing but smiling faces!
Although I had already done my qualifier swim, I feel that the 6 hour swim in Wales was much more of a challenge, it was shorter laps so a bit boring, but it tested me mentally and physically more than I thought it would.
It was back to the hostel for a shower and a roast chicken dinner – the perfect thing after a long swim! 3 or 4 people left the camp that evening so we all said our goodbyes to them but there were a few that stayed till the morning.
The next morning all but 2 of us and the 2 people running the camp left and the 4 of us headed to our final swim destination – Clevedon Marine Lake.
Last year I was contacted by someone from Clevedon Marine Lake asking me if I could help them improve accessibility to the lake and what a disabled changing room should have in it and be like. They received a large grant to build the changing facilities and to purchase 2 hoists aswell, so going to the actual lake and seeing it was really exciting. I managed to get back in touch with the person I spoke to previously and she was going to be at the lake too so we tried to sort meeting up.
We arrived at the lake, and I put my rucksack and crutches on the back of my chair as normal, we, well Tom, paid for the parking and we heading to the pavement so we could go to the lake, however, there was not a proper drop curb there and I couldn’t do a wheely up it either. As a result I had the great idea to try and go up it backwards, forgetting I had a heavy back on the back of my wheelchair and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor in a heap! My chair had tipped backwards; not the best start for a place being accessible. I think a lot of people panicked when I fell back but luckily, I had my bag with my towels in so landed on something squishy and didn’t hit my head. In the end I decided to roll sideways to get out of the chair. We headed up the hill and when I saw the lake, I had never seen anything (in person) quite like it! It looked awesome!
We tried to find the disabled changing room and eventually did but it was locked – not overly helpful! In the end we gave up and went down to the edge of the lake to see if Hilary (the contact at Clevedon) was there. I messaged her and about 5min later she appeared. We had a lovely chat, especially about the fact that it’s ridiculous they have a disabled changing room but you can’t access it unless you have a special code. It takes away some of the individuals independence, they can’t just turn up and expect to use it, they have to have a code first. I suggested they change the lock and put a radar key lock on it instead so that people can access it when they need to. After chatting for a while I got in the water for a lovely swim. It was really strange swimming in sea water but not actually being in the sea!
I did my first lap and it felt a bit odd being in a pool but being in salt water, however, I loved it! On the next lap I saw a few Jellyfish which surprised me but I didn’t get stung as they were moon jellyfish. On my final lap all of a sudden there were jellyfish everywhere; they don’t really bother me, especially the moon jellies but if you accidently touch one it feels horrible and makes me jump, it’s a little like dipping your hand in a bowl of cold custard, either that or one of those little gooey alien eggs that I had as a kid!
After the lovely swim I treated Tom and Ros to lunch at the pub next to the lake before being driven to Bristol to get the train home!
In summary – if you are thinking about and want to go on a swim camp but are a bit anxious about it – go for it; I am already booked on for the Tusker Swim Camp 2024!