Swimming the English Channel solo has always been in the back of my mind as something I might someday want to do, but for a long while I never took the steps to bring it closer to reality. I was a swimmer growing up but I was a sprinter and never into distance swimming. I had had some success in my high school years in the U.S., winning the 50 and 100 yard freestyle events at the Massachusetts State Championships, but when I got to University I was already mostly ‘burned out’ from the years I had put in and left the team in my 2nd year there to pursue water polo and rowing.

Drew at Aspire

For about 10 years after University I didn’t train much because I became frustrated that I couldn’t train at the level I was used to. That changed when I turned 35 and I found myself out of work for a few months when the company I had worked for went bankrupt. The extra time allowed me to get back into training and I found it really didn’t take all that long to get over the hump and get into a training routine again.

Fast forward another seven years and I found myself talking to a young guy on my team at work who had been captain of the Oxford swim team. I had heard of a 10k swim at the Tooting Bec Lido that was happening that weekend and we challenged ourselves to enter, despite having no cold water swimming experience (it was late October so the pool temp was 14C). We both managed to complete the swim (my time of 3 hours 25 minutes significantly slower than his) and began talking over the next few weeks about our next challenge. We found some others that were keen as well and decided that we’d look into putting together an English Channel relay.

That idea actually fell apart when I was offered another job at another company, but I decided to put my name on the waiting list for an escort boat anyway and got the news that I could have a slot about a year later. I put out an email to my office (the London office had about 250 people in it) and received five serious replies, four of whom were able to join me throughout and stick with the training. Being a newcomer to the company, the Channel challenge was a great bonding experience with my new teammates as well as a terrific ice breaker with people around the office curious as to what we were doing.

Drew on the beach

When the weather warmed up enough for us to train outdoors we realised how woefully unprepared we were, but we kept training at the Serpentine, the Brockwell and Tooting Lidos and eventually down in Dover Harbour and slowly became acclimatised to open water swimming. Brockwell was 10.5C when we started and we lasted 20 minutes, but eventually we qualified with our two hour swims in Dover in 13C water and by the time our relay came around in July, the 16C water felt like a bath (well, almost!)

The event was successful beyond our wildest expectations - the Channel was dead calm and though I got stung 18 times by jellyfish on my 2nd swim, that was really the only major challenge I faced. On our ride back our pilot Neil told me and one of my teammates that he thought we could do solos if we wanted to pursue it. I had decided on the relay because I felt it would be the only way I could get a realistic idea of whether a solo would be possible - to see what it’s like swimming out in the middle of the Channel - and I had gotten my answer!

Drew on the beach

However, it still took me four more years to sign up for the solo.  My youngest daughter had heard me say I wanted to do it by the time I was 50 and so she wrote that as a challenge on a napkin and stuck it on the refrigerator door. What finally kicked me into doing it was seeing (through the magic of Facebook) that an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since we were in our early teens came over from Massachusetts and successfully soloed at the end of the 2016 season.  We had been friends at a local neighbourhood pool and now he had beaten me to my dream; I finally stopped procrastinating and signed up for a slot (albeit for a slot almost three years after his).

Drew on the beach

I started my training in earnest last summer.  I had again found myself with some time off work and so went to Tooting Bec for long swims four or five times per week - or what I thought was long swims at the time (5 to 7km). As I started my current job in January of this year, however, I fell behind the training pace I’d hoped to keep through the winter and resolved to make up for it by committing myself fully to the Dover Channel Training regime. That meant that from the beginning of May onwards I would spend every weekend down in Dover Harbour and complete whatever was asked of me. In May that meant initially short swims in 11C water with an hour to try to warm up before having to re-enter the ocean again for another go. By the end of May it meant three and four hour swims in 13C water and on the 1st of June my six hour qualifying swim in 14.5C water. I was incredibly proud to have qualified so early in the season and came back the next morning expecting a three hour recuperation swim, only to be assigned a second six hour swim!  Expect the unexpected they tell you - that second six hour swim was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced.

Drews Dover swim track

So now I’ve made 26 of the 30 Dover training sessions, had six days of long swims (six hours or more, swimming 16 - 20km) and at least 18 swims over 10km.  I have practiced feeding techniques, thrashing through waves far bigger (I hope) than any I’ll face on The Day, reacquainted myself with jellyfish, done a five hour night swim beginning at 3am and followed the emotional rollercoaster of over 20 of my colleagues’ successful and less-than-successful attempts so far this year. I’m ready to give it my shot and feel I’ve done the work and prepared myself to the point where I have a fighting chance of making this happen.

I’m doing this because, for me, it is the hardest thing I can think of that I think I am capable of achieving. I know there is no guarantee I will be successful as so much can go wrong on the day, but I do believe that even if I’m thwarted by bad luck, I have learnt what it takes to do this and have proven to myself that I can still put in the work necessary to make it happen, so I will come back and succeed eventually. 

Everyone I know goes in with a fear of this event - it’s what makes trying it and overcoming that fear so compelling. That said, when I signed up for Dover Channel Training, I said I was transferring my fears of the swim to my anxiety of being able to follow the rigours of swimming for far longer and in far harder conditions than I had ever done before. For the most part that strategy worked; I now feel very confident that barring bad luck with the weather, I have the tools and experience to succeed.

I chose to swim with Aspire because I went to a seminar on marathon swimming and Paul Parrish, Aspire’s Director of Fundraising & Marketing, gave a presentation on what the charity does and how it involves itself with swimming.

I was impressed with the great work Aspire does for people with spinal cord injuries and how they help people rediscover how to lead an active lifestyle after such a devastating blow.  I figured that because Aspire involves itself with marathon swimming it would be natural for me to work with Aspire for my event.

My fundraising started off really strong and I got to £5,000 in the first couple of weeks. I’m planning a big push now to try to reach my goal of 10k, and hopefully beyond.  I’m telling people that this is my big one - I won’t be coming back each year for the next swim or mountain climb. This is the one!

I can only imagine the tremendous courage it takes to face such a devastating injury and re-learn the basics of how to live your life. Anything that I can do that can raise resources to help ease the burden even a little bit is as worthwhile as anything I can think of.

Sponsor Drew 

Relay Channel Swim

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