I only learnt to swim in my twenties as I never learned to swim as a child. I taught myself breaststroke and dabbled but it wasn't until a friend asked me to do a triathlon that I confessed I couldn't swim. Luckily, he was a swimming coach so he gave me lessons. The swim part of that triathlon was in a pool so I didn't really experience outdoor swimming until 2008 when, after watching David Walliams swim the Channel, my husband suggested I could do the same.

In August 2008 I found a local Lakeland park who were letting people swim in the evening.  I was terrified at first as I couldn't see what was below me and obviously it was much colder than a pool.  I think I lasted 10 minutes and didn't really like it, but I kept going back. In November 2008, I booked a pilot to swim the Channel the following year and set about looking at where I could swim during the winter and leading up to the crossing. I was SO naive and was on a very, very steep learning curve but I stuck to it. 

Julie swimming front crawl

When I attempted my solo Channel crossing the pilot had to stop me halfway across due to bad weather. I was devastated as I had lots of sponsorship riding on it and, of course, my pride. I couldn't stop crying for days afterwards which really upset my husband.  In 2010 I attempted a six-person relay but one by one the other five swimmers dropped out, so I ended up recruiting another swimmer at the last minute and attempting a two-person relay. All was going well until 8½ hours when we could see France but then the weather changed so much that the boat was rolling side to side and I could see the barnacles on the bottom.  I had also somehow managed to cut my leg and my fellow swimmer was suffering from hypothermia. The pilot told us we had at least another six hours swimming ahead of us, so we had to abandon it.  At this point I gave up any hope of Channel swimming as I felt I couldn't put myself through it all again!

However, the following year I received a phone call from a swim friend who asked if I would consider swimming a relay with him and four others that June. I said no at first, but my husband persuaded me and so on 27th June 2011, the Winter Swimming Council team set off. We were going to start on the morning tide, but Dover was fog bound so we had to wait until it cleared.  We finally set off around 5pm and swam through the night, successfully reaching French shores 13 hours and 51 minutes later.

Julie in Dover holding her medal

After that, I carried on swimming but following several years of intense training and poor technique, my shoulder finally deteriorated and in 2015 I ended up having major shoulder surgeries and was off work for four months and unable to swim until the following year.

By that time my confidence in swimming had waned significantly and I simply didn't want to swim outside and long distances again. I did, however, keep in touch with the goings on within the Dover Channel training groups and often spent my days tracking the swim boats going across. I guess deep down I never really lost my desire, I just put it to one side.  

Julie standing on a boat with the sea behind her

Then last year I was looking for a new focus and managed to persuade my reluctant husband that I was ready to do another swim relay. Part of the deal was choosing a charity which focusses on Channel swimming and has a great support network. I am a patron of Outdoor Swimmer magazine and so when I saw their advert, I took the plunge and contacted Aspire. Over the years I had done their Aspire Channel Swim twice, so I already knew quite a bit about them and what they stood for. 

I’ve only met the rest of my team – the Aspire Spaniels - via Zoom so far.  We have a WhatsApp group and I knit so I have made everyone a woolly hat with spaniel ears!  Our swim is planned to take place on 17th July 2021, and I am looking forward to it.

Julie smiling wearing swim hat and goggles

Swimming training has been non-existent due to lockdown. I have a dog so I was walking up to 5 miles a day during lockdown as well as the occasional 5km run with him.  I also have an indoor bike trainer, but I haven't done that so much as it is in the workshop outside and too cold!  I have lost three months of training but still remain positive I can pick things back up.  I work full time as a senior NHS Manager and fit training around work.

My fundraising hasn’t been going too badly, I hope to have raised over £1,000 soon.  As well as asking people to sponsor me I held ‘The Great Channel Bake Sale’ in my village one weekend and sold £728 worth of cakes.  In the next few months, I am planning to hold ‘The Great Channel Clothes Sale’ (basically a jumble sale!).  I find that just asking for donations isn't enough – people like getting something so I make things at a low cost which can be sold at a profit e.g. my hats cost £4 to make but I sell them for £15.  I was hoping to hold social events in our local pub, but I don't think they will be able to go ahead due to Covid which is a shame.  Fundraising is all about exposure and getting the news out to a wider audience. 

Swimming in general - whether in a pool or outside - is great.  I'm not built for running and was always mediocre at it, but when I'm in the water it’s so different!  Although I’m not the fastest swimmer I have great stamina and can swim for long periods of time.  

I feel free when I'm in the water and when I'm swimming in a lake or in the Channel I always look up and around and think ‘I'm the only person on the planet doing this right now!’

But I still have a fear of failure. Up until my unsuccessful solo attempt, every challenge I had undertaken I have been successful at it. It really knocked me and raised huge doubts in my confidence. A part of me still has a desire to do a solo so I guess this relay challenge is the restarting of my journey. I just need to persuade my husband as he is very reluctant for me to do it.  

Julie about to dive off the boat in the English Channel

I watched a TV programme recently called 'Any One Of Us' and it brought home how delicate life is and how easy it is for anyone to sustain a spinal cord injury.

Having an organisation on hand to assist people who sustain an injury is essential to help get people back to as 'normal' and independent a life as possible. Aspire is this organisation and I feel really proud and very confident that my well-earned sponsor money will be put to good use.   

Julie swimming in the Channel

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