STA Channel Swim 2023 Part 2

As I watched the sunrise it was a huge mental boost. I had got through the night and since I was expecting to finish late afternoon, I knew the rest of the swim would be in the light with the sunshine on my back. My only concern was last year during my relay swim, when the sun was out was when the Jelly Fish came out to play.

Through the first few hours of daylight I was smiling, feeds were still going ok but were getting harder because my legs were getting more and more painful and tired. I was still managing my maltodextrin drinks and I also had some solids – Harbio, Jelly Babies and Milky Bar chocolate! 

By the morning I had also, for the first time learnt how to pee whilst swimming rather than having to stop – possibly too much information but it is something I have always struggled with. Oddly, I was helped to do this by thinking of my friend’s dog that likes to scent mark on walks and as a result whenever I needed a wee I sang: 

“Old MacDonald had a farm

Ee i ee i o

And On that farm he had a dog called Alfie 

Ee i ee i o

With a p**s p**s here
And a p**s p**s there
Here a p**s, there a p**s
Everywhere he p**sed and p**sed

Ee i ee i o”

(Yes, I did get VERY bored of singing Old MacDonald had a farm, but it worked and meant I could pee after each feed).

A couple of hours after sun-up my left shoulder started hurting. It was suddenly painful and hard work to lift my arm over the water, I had an “Oh s**t” moment when I realised if that shoulder didn’t stop hurting, I was effectively going to be swimming using 1 arm only! I was already having my regular normal pain killers so there was nothing more I could take and all I could do was try to keep swimming for as long as I could.

Despite it getting more and more difficult to lift my arm up and out of the water for the ‘recovery’ phase of my stroke. I kept going and it felt like a couple of hours before my shoulder suddenly cracked and then it felt fine, and I started to be able to use it properly. 

A lot of the day was the same thing on repeat, swim for an hour, have a feed, sing Old MacDonald (so I could wee), then swim for another hour, have a feed, there was nothing particularly interesting going on, at least not in terms of my actual swimming. In my head I was singing songs and at one point I decided to think about what was on the boat and to go through the alphabet and find an object for each letter of the alphabet on the boat. I also did the same but with thinking about a boy’s name for each letter of the alphabet. It was just a game to take up the time and to keep my mind busy, so I didn’t get bored.

It was nearing midday and suddenly, I saw the magical mid-way buoy! I thought I had already gone past it, so it was a bit deflating in some respects, however, for the first time in the swim I actually knew where abouts in the channel I was and there was a bit of cheering on the boat as I went past it. After the buoy I have a bit of a blank space in my mind about what happened in the swim as it was back to swim, feed, repeat and I think I went into robot mode. I have since been informed that I was by that mid-way buoy for a very, very, very long time and it was at this point that boats with swimmers that set off after me were in fact now over taking me. I am incredibly glad that my crew didn’t inform me of that because it would likely have made me call it quits and I would have got out!

I do remember that my mouth and tongue were starting to get very sore, and swallowing was hurting a little bit, so at my next feed Mike gave me some mouthwash, which, I promptly spat out and swore. It stung and felt like it was burning the inside of my mouth, almost like I had hundreds of paper cuts on my tongue, lips and just in general in my mouth! I did take a second swig of the mouthwash and was told to swish it round in my mouth to try and get rid of some of the salt. It helped a bit but it was horrible.

It was time for my next feed (not sure what number by this point), but, instead of just seeing Mike there with my food, all my support crew were standing at the edge of the boat looking seriously at me. I had a moment of panic that they were going to pull me out. I went through everything and couldn’t for the life of me think of why they would pull me out now when I was perfectly fine. I was told that Camilla was going to be getting in as my support swimmer for a bit to try and get my stroke rate up. Being in robot mode I wasn’t concentrating on swimming and as a result my stroke rate dropped considerably and I’d metophorically hit a wall. Having Camilla in the water meant I had to stay in front of her, so it made me swim harder and faster, my stroke rate almost instantly improved. 

I was a bit concerned when I was told she was getting in because the advice I had been given was to not use a support swimmer because I would regret it. I was told I would feel like I hadn’t done it as a solo swim, but in that moment, I knew my observer, pilot and crew were in the best place to make the decision and I trusted them. Without Camilla getting in, I am not sure if I would have finished the swim, before she got in I was basically going backwards! She got my stroke rate up which was what we needed, but it was also nice to have someone swimming with me, despite her being behind me I knew she was there and that gave me a bit of company and a real boost to keep pushing forwards.

As the waves and swell picked up, I was starting to see a few jellyfish, I had seen loads of little moon jellies, but I was beginning to see a few Compass Jellyfish too. The next thing I knew, I had been stung by a jellyfish on my left thigh and my leg started to go into spasm. Getting stung on my left leg was one of my biggest fears about the swim because when I got stung on it last time it went into spasm, and it took a good 24 hours for it to calm down and for me to stop wishing someone could chop my leg off!

As soon as it stung me, I screamed and swore. It felt like someone had suddenly decided to peel several layers of skin off my leg and it felt like my leg was red raw, of course, it wasn’t but the intense pain was overwhelming, and I couldn’t help but let out a few tears. I knew it was important to try and get myself to calm down and relax because being tense was just making it hurt more and it was causing my ankle to twist inwards and spasm. Its pretty tough to relax when it feels like your leg is being pulled apart; but relaxing whilst in pain is something that I have practiced and taught myself to do. I ended up trying to support my left leg with my right one. I swam with my right leg crossed under and supporting my left.

This helped me to feel something other than just the intense pain, I could feel that my left leg was in fact still there and hadn’t been chewed on by a shark and it also stopped my legs from moving about quite so much too. Boy does swimming with your legs crossed at the ankles work your core hard though!

Not long after this I noticed that the sun was starting to set, and a little panic and confusion set in. I was aiming and expecting to be finished swimming as the sun started going down and would watch the sunset over France on the boat home, but I could tell France was still miles away! My lips were incredibly swollen I debated asking how far I had to go or how long I had been in the water, but I tried to put the questions out of my head as I felt like it would be like me becoming the annoying child that constantly asks “are we nearly there yet” every 10 minutes on a long car journey! 

At dusk I finally gave in, I stopped and asked. Camilla and Mike had been sitting on the front of the boat and I asked how long I had been in the water for. I think they questioned if they should tell me or not, but I was matter of fact and serious – I wanted to know how long I had been in so I could judge if it was worth carrying on or not. 

I was told “20 hours”. 

My response – “OK, I will go to 24 hours”.

It sounds nuts now but at the time my thinking was that if I swam for a full 24 hours aka a full day then I could say that I had given it a really good shot and that not many people could say they had swum for a full day. 

In my head there was a moment of me imagining the STA reports saying that I didn’t make it across the English Channel, but I swam for 24 hours. I would be annoyed but I would still have done what I set out to do, raise awareness and the profile of open water swimmers with disabilities, so I would be ok with that, I was still showing people with disabilities shouldn’t limit themselves and showing that just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do awesome things!

However, imagining that happen reminded me of when I was a teenager, and I didn’t swim in the English Channel Relay and that it took me 14 years to finally get a second attempt at the swim – I wasn’t risking another 14 years of waiting to try and swim the channel solo again. I had to finish the swim, or I would never let it go.

I had to finish, so, into night number 2 I swam.

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