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Swimming the Channel for charity

Alexandra takes on the ‘Everest of swimming’ to raise funds for the BLF.

When I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to swim the English Channel. 16 years later, I finally had the chance to live my dream.

In my everyday life I'm a physiotherapist who helps people with lung conditions to manage their condition well. I run pulmonary rehabilitation classes, support people after a stay in hospital and share advice about things like breathing control or clearing your chest. Helping someone with severe breathlessness to gain confidence and improve their quality of life is a brilliant, fulfilling experience.

And so the BLF is a charity that is close to my heart: they’re leading the way to support people with their Breathe Easy groups, backing research into respiratory conditions and empowering people to live their lives to the full with activities such as singing for breathing.

I wanted to swim the Channel as a personal challenge, but I couldn't miss the chance to help the BLF as well. I decided to use the swim as a fundraising opportunity.

Getting the go-ahead

The English Channel is about 21 miles across at the nearest points, but most swimmers have to travel further. The challenges of tides, currents, ships and weather conditions make this one of the toughest open water swims.

I spent two years training and preparing for this event and finally, in August 2014, I started my ‘Dover waiting game’. I was on edge waiting for the phone call that would give me the go-ahead to start my swim. Due to the after effects of Hurricane Bertha, the channel conditions were still very unsettled.

However, a few days later I got the call to meet my pilot, Eric, at Dover harbour the next morning. He would be following me along in a boat to make sure I stayed safe during the attempt. At last, it was happening!

Ready, steady, swim!

By the time I arrived at Dover harbour at 5am, there were already a few swimmers out attempting their crossing. I found out that 12 other swims were being attempted that day.

It was a very formal beginning. Eric gave me some safety advice and I listened to the rules I had to follow from an official observer. Then we headed over to my starting point: Shakespeare’s beach.

Standing on the beach, I took a deep breath, raised my arms…and began! The first three hours flew by with the excitement pushing me along.

The day began perfectly; the sun rose and warmed my back and the sea was only a little choppy at the start. Even the ships seemed to be moving in my favour as I had clear water across the shipping lanes – although that didn't stop me feeling the strong waves from their wakes.

But as we headed into French waters, everything changed. The wind picked up and suddenly the swim was much more challenging.

Pushed to the limit

Those last 90 minutes were really hard going. I was fighting much bigger waves, wind and stronger currents. At one point I even stopped and asked my crew in the boat if I was moving forwards or backwards! With reassurance that I was making progress, I put my head down and dug deep.

Finally, I crawled up onto the shore. After clearing the water and raising my hand to stop the clock, I collapsed onto the sand and reflected on what I had just achieved. I was lucky to make it to the end. Many of the other swimmers had to abandon their attempts due to the weather conditions. The Channel certainly showed her power that day!

Calm after the storm

I was able to recover soon after my swim, but people with breathlessness often find it challenging just to live their day-to-day life and every bit of support makes a huge difference. I'm so pleased that I managed to raise over £1000 for the BLF with my swim as I know first-hand what a great impact that money will have on the people they help.

For now I'm taking a break from big challenges but there are many more marathon swims out there, so watch this space! I hope my story will inspire others to take the plunge and swim for a fantastic cause.

Inspired by Alexandra’s story? You can donate to her JustGiving fundraising page or join one of our fundraising events.

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8 September 2014