Five years ago, I had one of those ‘seeing a picture of myself but not recognising myself in it’ moments and really wanted to change something – not just my fitness but also my overall mental wellbeing. I took advantage of the onsite gym in my office and really started to become fit again. As part of my gym membership I was able to use another gym close by which has a pool so, when during the Christmas break my onsite gym closed, I went to that one instead and dipped in the pool after my workout. I was a member of a swimming club when I was a child but stopped actively swimming as a teenager (pretty typical) but after a few sessions back in the pool, the fun of swimming came back to me and I started going more regularly.

Stella in a robe by a lake

Then one day at work I had a conversation with a colleague, after the movie Everest was released, about what our lifelong dreams and challenges were and I replied “swimming the English Channel”.  At that point I thought it was pretty unrealistic but, with inspiration from my colleague, I broke this lifelong dream down into a smaller challenge and started researching swimming to the Isle of Wight.  On the same day as that conversation, I had signed myself up to a charity swim to the Isle of Wight.  At that point I had never done any open water swimming, nor had I even heard of people doing it regularly.

Fast forward 5 years, I would now call myself a pretty experienced open water swimmer and soon I can say that I have swam across the English Channel too! 

Over the past five years I have taken part in several open water swimming events; short distance, long distance, rivers, lakes and sea. My longest distance was 14km which was from Henley to Marlow, the Thames Marathon. I have taken part in several 10k swim events too, such as the Jubilee River swim and Dorney Lake. My favourite type of event is in a river because I feel like I’m swimming to an end point, whereas a lake can be pretty boring!  

Stella in a robe by a lake

Towards the end of last year, I also signed up to several cold water challenges such as the Polar Bear Challenge and I’m a member of the Bluetits Chill Swimmers. In June I will be taking part in the Jubilee 10k river swim, which will be the first time I will be swimming the event in skins. I’m also taking part in an event at Coniston and the Serpentine Swim in September. 

My advice to others taking on this challenge would be to try to get into open water in skins only as soon as possible and get used to the idea of cold water. 

I love that I can switch off completely from the rest of the world. Especially when I have done long distance events or training; it means I can’t access my phone, talk to anyone etc. I’m completely in tune with myself and the best ideas come into my head too. 

Up until the most recent lockdown announcement I was able to swim in a Lido and lake for training. At the moment I dip in the Thames at least once a week to stay acclimatised to cold water, but I can’t wait to go back to the Lido and lakes soon and also travel to swimming spots again. I try to go for a walk almost every day or do land exercises like stretching etc. 

Team Terriers

I absolutely love being part of the Aspire Team Terriers.  I always enjoy teamwork and I like that we can help each other and give each other support in the months leading up to the big day, as well as during the crossing. As a team we have had a few zoom calls and created a WhatsApp group. Some of us live fairly close to each other so I have met up with team buddies for walks and dips which has been nice.  Hopefully we’ll all get together at the start of April for our first swim together. 

One of the reasons I wanted to take part in the relay this year is that the pandemic and working from home has made me feel quite removed from people and so I like that I’m connecting through this challenge with like-minded people and learning from their experiences.

Our boat leader Jo is doing a fantastic job and has given us some great support so far. I look forward to meeting her in person soon and hearing more about her personal experience from last year’s Channel crossing. 

Stella in a robe by a lake

Fundraising

I’m overwhelmed by the support I’ve received so far and have almost reached the minimum amount we need to raise already.  I held a talk in my company’s ‘All Staff’ meeting which created awareness of the challenge and Aspire, and resulted in some generous donations from colleagues.  I have been very active on social media, especially Instagram, and prior to lockdown I connected with many other open water swimmers which has given me a great platform of support. 

One of my other challenges was to write and read a poem at one of the local Poetry Events I attend monthly and encourage fundraising this way. I’m not sure if I will be successful with this other personal challenge!

I don’t personally know anyone with a spinal cord injury, but since reaching out to people about my fundraising I have heard personal stories from friends or relatives who have been affected by a spinal cord injury, so it means a lot to me to be supporting Aspire.

I like that I can combine a lifelong dream with helping people. I have seen what Aspire does to help people and I think it’s a wonderful charity and so important. 

I haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about my Channel swim, it just feels like it’s in me and something I have to do.  When I started outdoor swimming, a lot of people joked and asked if I wanted to swim the Channel too and I always replied in quite a serious manner “yes, I will”.  So, I guess there is a bit in a me that wants to prove something to people and I also want to show my daughter that women can do things too!  Our swim is planned for mid-July and I can’t wait! 

I would like to say a big thank you so everyone who is involved in the organisation of the event. I feel well supported and it has been so much fun already. And thank you to my fellow Terriers.

Sponsor Stella

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