Sponsor Paula

I arrived in Dover at 9am on Saturday 3rd July with all hopes of a sunny weekend dashed. It was cold, windy and looked very uninviting. The water temperature was 15.8 degrees and I was slightly anxious as I'd had a very sore shoulder since the qualifying swim three weeks previous and had only managed three swims since. I'd had physio, acupuncture, cupping and ultrasound on it in the week leading to this weekend but wasn't sure how it would hold up.

Paula in her wheelchair after swimming at night

Hitting the cold water is always a nasty shock,  I just have to get swimming and hope it gets better... it doesn't! That said, it takes me a while to straighten out as I'm quite 'chair-shaped' so lifting my head to breath is always quite difficult for the first 10 minutes or so which takes my mind off the cold. I swam with Simon, a fellow team member, who is a lot faster than me so he kindly swam around me in circles to make sure I was safe without getting cold himself. We swam for an hour, which always seems a lot longer in the cold. I looked at my watch at what I thought was half way only to find that we'd only been swimming for 19 mins!

We sat in my car after the swim with the heater on full blast. Neither of us had remembered to bring a flask and neither of us was prepared to leave the warmth of the car in order to get hot drinks. Luckily, we had wonderful volunteers who very kindly brought us hot coffee. 

The thought of stripping off for the second swim was not very inviting but slightly more so than Andrew Ogierman's wrath if we didn't! My shoulder had held up pretty well on the first swim but I was tired from lack of training and didn't want to overdo it and risk injuring myself further. We managed 45 mins for the second swim and I decided I would miss the third swim as I really wanted to do the night swim. 

Paula Craig in the sea at night

We headed back to the hotel where I tried to get some sleep but, unfortunately, my shoulder was too painful. It's worse lying down than when I'm actually swimming. Having watched the football alcohol free, much to Simon's dismay, we headed back to the beach for our night swim. I hadn't been in the sea at night since I was about 30, long before my accident, when I did a night dive. Somehow, the water in Dover Harbour didn't look anything like as inviting as the coral reef. Nevertheless, we made our way in and it did actually feel warmer than the day time - a whole 0.2 of a degree as it turns out!

We swam for 20 mins just to get used to swimming at night which is pretty much a certainty for the actual crossing. I concentrated on how nice my watch looked under the water, anything to take my mind off the cold and the fact that I couldn't see the others, just two little lights on the beach where our volunteers were holding torches.

We headed straight back to the hotel where I had a hot shower and lots of hot coffee. It was now 11.15pm and I desperately needed sleep as we were back in the water at 6.30am on Sunday. I fell asleep, exhausted, but woke at 2am as the air conditioning had gone off and I was so hot. Spinal Cord Injury does have a habit of playing havoc with body temperature! Having put the air con back on, I then couldn't get back to sleep as my shoulder was so uncomfortable so I covered it in Biofreeze which, in turn, made me really cold. This really wasn't going well! I don't know what time I finally fell asleep but, suffice to say, when my alarm went off at 5.30am, I wasn't exactly raring to go.

Paula in her wheelchair after swimming at night

Still, there's nothing to wake you up quite like plunging into what was now 16 degree water. I'd like to say I savoured the beauty of the early morning but, the truth is, I got my head down and just swam and thought about how I could sleep all afternoon!

I managed just under the hour and decided that I'd done enough for the weekend. I was in awe of all those other swimmers who had managed three 75 min swims on Saturday followed by the night swim and were going in for a second swim on the Sunday, but I knew my limits. 

After a two hour drive home, I did exactly what I'd been thinking about throughout the swim, I slept all afternoon! An exhausting 24 hours of swimming but, after each of these training weekends, I've felt more prepared for the challenge. I was back in the lake on Monday, 20.7 degrees....it felt like a bath!!

Sponsor Paula

Paula Craig MBE to become the first person with a complete Spinal Cord injury to swim the English Channel without a wetsuit

Paula swam for rehab following a spinal cord injury

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