Last Sunday 40 Aspire swimmers took to the river at the Henley Swim Festival to celebrate 10 years of Relay Channel swimming with Aspire.  All 40 had previously swum the Channel with Aspire over the past 10 years, including Aspire’s CEO Brian Carlin.

Aspire swimmers forming the number 10 on the ground at Henley

Aspire’s first Relay Channel Swim

Every year since 2009, Aspire has seen relay channel teams of six swim from Dover to France - a swim of 22 miles, with each swimmer taking their turn to swim the channel for an hour in rotation until they reach land.   Aspire’s pool challenge – the Aspire Channel Swim, which challenges swimmers to swim 22 miles over 12 weeks in their local pool -had started a decade before, so in 2009 venturing out to do the real thing was a big moment for the charity.

For that first swim, the day itself was perfect, with a flat sea, calm waters and very sunny - more chance of sunburn than sea sickness. However, this gave a few false impressions about what to expect crossing conditions to be like in the future. Not only was Aspire’s CEO, Brian Carlin a member of the relay team, but two team members had spinal cord injuries and were paraplegic swimmers. James Wood, who is a wheelchair user, was the person who ‘landed’ the swim, touching down on the shores of France at 3.27pm on Tuesday 8th September 2009. When he arrived, speaking no French and not being able to stand up, the beach-goers who came to congratulate him ended up trying to ring for an ambulance. James then crossed the Channel solo the following year.

2009 relay channel swimmers Eleanor and Brian at Henley

Swimmers from the first boat in 2009 - Eleanor Reddington and Aspire CEO Brian Carlin

Since that first year Aspire has seen 47 successful relays overall - approximately 300 successful Relay Channel Swimmers - not forgetting a few who have been thwarted by the weather but have still managed to raise a lot of money to support people with spinal cord injuries. Several of Aspire’s Relay Channel Swimmers have even gone on to do solo Channel crossings based on the experience they gained and the taste Aspire has given them for Channel swimming. This year alone, four swimmers are taking on that Everest of a solo swim.

If all goes to plan with this year’s teams, Aspire’s Relay Channel Swimmers will have raised £1 million since the first team set off from Dover a decade ago.

Andrew Ogierman, Challenge Events Manager, says, “We couldn’t be prouder of Aspire’s ten years of making it possible for hundreds of swimmers to complete the challenge of a lifetime.  Every single swimmer should be proud of the challenge they took on and of the profound difference they have made to the lives of people with Spinal Cord Injury. The funds our Relay Channel Swimmers have raised over the last decade have done so much for so many.”

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