How it all began…

Setting off just after midnight on Sea Satin, a familiar feeling from my relay swim with The Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards channel relay last year. This time, it was different, it was me swimming and me alone. 

Sea Satin

The dream of swimming the English Channel started as a teenager in Hastings, I was part of a cross channel relay team for the Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards and we did a fundraising relay channel swim to raise money for the club. I always felt as though everyone thought I would back out of the swim as the water got colder and the swims longer but there was no chance. I was all in and as a result, I made the final team. 

At age 15, it was my first experience of any real sporting challenge and sadly my nerves and stomach got the better of me; resulting in me starting to be seasick after being on the boat for 10 minutes and me finishing being sea sick when I got off the boat many hours later – I didn’t even see France. In a channel relay you must keep to the same order, or the team fails. As a result, I made the difficult decision to not swim and let our reserve swim instead. I was devastated.

When we got off the boat, the team were celebrating their success but suddenly, I wasn’t part of that successful team. However, someone turned to me and said “well, if you can’t do a relay because you get seasick you will just have to do it solo”. I took it as a joke at the time but without me even realising, one of my dreams suddenly became swimming the English Channel Solo.

In 2022, 15 years after my first attempt at a relay, a great deal had changed but my dream hadn’t. Following an accident that left me in a wheelchair 90% of the time, and despite my disabilities I was asked to be part of another Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards Relay (despite the fact I now live in Cambridgeshire). Last year I redeemed myself, we had a fantastic team and amazing conditions on the day and completed the relay with ease, read about it here 

Whilst on the boat I spoke to the observer and a couple of other crew members about the possibility at looking at doing the swim solo in the future. I had done Windermere 2 way, which is often used as a step up to the English Channel, I had now completed a channel relay too so next, it was time to give it a go solo.

We discussed the ins and outs and all the rules for doing a solo swim, we also spoke about the costs, and I concluded that I would likely be unable to do the swim for several years as I would have to either save up or apply for funding from somewhere for me to take on the  epic challenge.

A couple of months later, I was asked to give a talk on accessibility in open water swimming at the Swimming Teachers Association Conference as a result of my work with Adaptive and Disabled Open Water Swimmers Facebook group. It would be the first ever talk on accessibility in open water swimming. It was there that I met Mike Goody, he was the compere at the conference and an amputee. I was incredibly nervous at the talk, and he attended the talk to help put my mind at ease. Whilst we were chatting later on, he introduced me to the CEO of the Swimming Teachers Association and ultimately that resulted in me having my English Channel Swim funded by the STA. 

Once I knew I was doing my swim and had booked my slot I had to choose my support crew. Mike Goody would be on the boat for the STA so he could keep people updated through the STA social media and document my journey across the channel too. The second person was my sister, it was a no brainer – she has always been there and supported my swimming and I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted on that boat more than her. Finally, the 3rd support crew member I decided I wanted was Helen Bull, she has her own medical conditions and is also a wheelchair user, but it was thanks to her that I became a qualified swimming teacher again and, I guess you could say that she inspired me and showed me that what I wanted to do was possible. Sadly, Helen had to pull out at the last minute as she was unwell and in hospital, leaving me one person short. 

I contacted several different people, and all were interested in crewing for me, but no one was free for the entire period I would be waiting for my call to swim. As soon as I got the call I reached out and thankfully Camilla Golledge was available for the swim time I was given, it was a huge relief as I knew there was a chance my sister would be seasick and Camilla could act as a second support swimmer, should I need one.

My crew –

Mike Goody

I had the pleasure of meeting Sophie at the Swim Teachers Association Conference 2022 where it was clear Sophie & I had had many shared experiences and opinions on disability and swimming.
The nutty legend then when on to explaining how she wanted to be the first person with a disability to complete the Original Triple Crown starting with the English Channel. Having been crazy enough to do something similar many years ago, I knew I wanted to help if I could!

My own swimming experiences, opportunities and competitions have enabled me to promote & advocate for not only the essential life saving skill of learning to swim, but also the ability to adapt & overcome (with or without a disability) when faced with a life changing moment with the assistance of the fantastic STA.

Laura Etheridge

If you’ve followed my swim journey then she needs no introduction but incase you haven’t Laura is my older sister and I first started swimming lessons because I would scream that I wanted to get in the water at her swimming lessons, so much so, that the teacher told my mum to get me in the water to shut me up.

Growing up we weren’t massively close but we both had a rough few years around the time of my accident but from the moment I started getting back into swimming she has been there. 

She had never done anything like it before but when I decided I wanted to do Windermere 2 way she agreed to sit on a boat for over 16 hours as I swam so she could look after me and feed me. Since then she has taken time off work to travel and help me with my swimming. We’ve been to the Lake District, Hastings, Dover, London, Leicester and probably a few other places too! Without her support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be preparing to swim the channel solo and as soon as I knew I was doing a solo swim, I knew she had to be on my boat. 

Camilla Golledge

As a fellow STA ambassador and friend, I have been following Sophie’s journey. We actually swam together earlier this year in Dover harbour when I was training for my Channel relay crossing. 

I was flattered when Sophie asked me to be part of her team, and for a while we didn’t think it would happen because of my prior commitments, but with a stroke of luck her swim has fallen on my available days. 

I’m hoping to be a good support to Sophie having recently experienced the Channel and all she can throw at you. 

Sophie has inspired so many people to date and continues to push her own limits and the boundaries that society puts on her. 

In simple terms – I had a fantastic support team, a great pilot and a dream, all that was left was to swim the English Channel….

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