As a professional stunt person, I’ve doubled for Kylie Minogue, Kiera Knightley and Sienna Miller, I have thrown myself off cliffs and buildings, set myself on fire and tumbled down stairs, but nothing was as tough as preparing to swim the Channel for Aspire.

In spring last year I was in Dover doubling as Mary Brown (the mother) in Paddington 2. In the film Mary intends to swim the English Channel. Knowing I was a swimmer, my colleagues asked whether I had ever considered swimming the Channel? I had. But I didn’t really know where to start.

A swimming certificate for Mary Brown signed by Paddington Bear

Later that evening, a chance meeting in a bar led me to solo Channel swimmer and RNLI worker Sam Jones. She invited me to swim with her the very next day. I did. The seed was sown.

I didn’t really know where to start. From initial research, a Channel swim seemed complicated and costly to set up, so when I stumbled upon the Aspire website and the work that they do, I knew immediately that I should sign up.

As a stunt performer, I work in an occupation where a Spinal Cord Injury is an ever-present risk. I have seen first-hand the devastation that paralysis can have on people’s lives. I know that if the worst were to happen to myself or a loved one I would want to know I had done my bit to support Aspire in their fantastic and life-changing work.

Initially I had viewed swimming the Channel as the ultimate show of swimming prowess, however, as training began in earnest I realised, for me, this was going to be a battle with the cold. With very little natural insulation I struggled from the start. As a professional stunt person, I would say I am fairly accustomed to pushing myself physically, but on this challenge I felt I was pushing myself physiologically.

When I realised this, my training switched from swimming long distances to eating lots and lots of calories! Luckily my team leader is an amazing baker so this wasn’t too much of a struggle. Even my boyfriend has helped by matching my calorie increase, and weight gain, something he isn’t quite so chuffed about.

Belinda and her teammate getting into the cold sea

In the coming weeks I managed to gain nearly a stone and converted a fair bit of muscle to fat. I’m hoping my change in size won’t affect my work doubling super skinny actresses and luckily it hasn’t so far, but either way, I knew that when I held a French beach pebble in my hand, it would all be worth it!

I have to confess, on Aspire’s second training weekend, when I didn’t complete the two-hour qualifier needed to swim the Channel with everyone else, I thought of quitting. The reality was that I was way off. I couldn’t see how a two hour swim was ever going to be possible. After just one hour I was a shivering mess! I thought two was never going to be achievable.

Knowing that my relay team, named Team Frogfish, were to be the first Aspire boat to swim that season, I decided the only option was to take some time off work to train. Other than gaining body insulation the only way to improve your cold water tolerance is exposure to it, so that’s what I had to do.

During that week, I met some truly incredible people, people I felt humbled to be around. I posted a plea on Facebook asking if anyone would train with me, and veritable legends of the Channel swimming world responded with positivity and offers to lend their time to oversee my swims, or to swim with me. I will always be grateful to these people and will never forget the kindness they showed me. I certainly would not have attended my swim a few weeks later had it not been for them!

Belinda with Aspires Andrew eating at her successful qualifier

Luckily, my training week was perfectly timed with a spell of great weather and ten days later I had clocked up swims in Dover, Weymouth and Bournemouth. I even managed to get the two-hour qualifying swim under my belt, the golden ticket of Channel swimming. I was ready.

And so it was that in the early hours of Saturday 7th July Team Frogfish started their crossing to France. Conditions for the swim were perfect, we couldn’t have asked for better. The sun shone, (although a little misty), the seas were calm (for most of the way) and most importantly for me, the water was warm enough to get in without shrieking!

 Belinda swimming the Channel

After months of gruelling training and preparation, in a little over 13 hours, Team Frogfish finally set foot on French soil.

It was a dream.

Without the help of the wonderful people at Aspire, I would not have made it to France with my team. Fact. Aspire assisted me every step of the way.  When I doubted whether I could continue, I was given encouragement, support, advice and guidance. The kindness and support shown to me was incredible, humbling and at times completely overwhelming. If this is in any way indicative of the support that the charity provides to those with spinal cord injuries then this is a truly special and unique charity, one which will now always remain close to my heart.

Billy Ferguson's Solent Swim

In August Billy swam Aspire's Solent Swim to the Isle of Wight in challenging conditions and then wrote about all his experiences. A must-read for anyone considering the challenge.

So, how did I get to this point?

Relay Channel Swimmer Stephen Bonner tells us how he went from never having swum face-down front crawl to swimming across the English Channel.

Team Frogfish at Dover Marina ahead of their swimFrogfish on the boat after a successful Channel swim

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