I began outdoor swimming 10 years ago on a beginners SwimTrek trip to Majorca. I had swum as a child in the sea on holidays but never as an organised activity. I became completely hooked and swapped my allegiance from wooden boards in the snow to exploring the world in water!  I have been on 15 trips with SwimTrek in Europe and further afield, including the Maldives, Oman, Komodo islands and the Galapagos Islands.

My decision to swim the Channel came from an ambition to swim this iconic body of water and the option to do it as a relay made it a reality.  Trying to organise a crossing ourselves proved to be incredibly difficult and so when we saw Aspire’s advert in Outdoor Swimmer magazine it was the impetus we needed to get the ball rolling.

The Aspire training weekends were absolutely brilliant, ticking every single box for us landlocked swimmers. They ran like clockwork, the information was up to date and crystal clear and the build up from 40 minutes in the water to three 1½ hour swims, the taster boat and the night swim was absolutely perfect. We could not have asked for a better introduction and build up to the real thing.

The second training weekend was a real challenge for me as I had had a bike crash a month before which meant I couldn’t swim. I still went down with my team, got up for the night swim and was on the taster boat; invaluable experiences which I am convinced helped our ultimate success. I would absolutely recommend next year’s potential relay Channel swimmers to attend them all!

I loved being part of Team Zebra and we now have an unbreakable bond - forever a zebra! I knew one of our team really well and the others train at the same outdoor pool so we saw each regularly, but little did we know how entwined our lives would become!

Our boat leader Laura has been an absolute star. She answered all our questions without making us feel ridiculous, we had a lot of them too! She made us feel safe, she was kind, supportive, fun, had a treasure trove of useful information, made great tea, and basically looked after everything for us. I’m not sure where she gets all her energy from as even with a full time job she was always on hand to help us and also do her own swimming.  We would have been absolutely lost without her.

The swim itself was epic. We got called five weeks early because the weather was so good. We left Dover at 7.30 am and the conditions were amazing - smooth water, sunshine and no wind – and this was the story of our crossing! We had a lot of fun on the boat singing, encouraging each other and drinking lots of tea.  My favourite moment was my second swim which I found hard work but loved really pushing myself and feeling like I had had a good workout. Visibility was great, the water was warm, and I could hear and see my teammates shouting from the boat.

Virginia swimming in the Channel

After 14 hours and 11 minutes we landed on Wissant beach which was amazing; we hugged, shrieked and found a pebble each before being hooted at to get back on board!  We had the absolute best conditions we could have dreamed of and are so thankful we managed to go early.

Reaching France was the icing on the cake - everything we had trained and planned for had come true. It was pitch black so we couldn’t see a lot, but that didn’t matter. I thought I was going to feel really emotional but I was just so excited that we had actually done it! Swimming the Channel has been my biggest sporting achievement. I could never do a solo crossing, so this was the best way for me to achieve it.

Team Zebra on the boat at the end of their swim

I raised more money than I could have ever dreamed of.  Our fundraising started off with four months of cake and hot drink sales at the pool, where the community have been a fantastic support to us; we raised over £7,500 which got us off to a brilliant start.  Others in the team have done winter daily dips, had open house events at home and we recently held a self-care evening at the pool. Most of my donations have come from very generous friends and family who think I am a nutter for doing it!

Swimming as part of team was the best; we encouraged each other through tough times and never doubted ourselves. When the water was cold or when I couldn’t swim, their support was outstanding. We are a team and that is what we reminded ourselves every time we swam - if one fails, we all fail.  We have a huge bond now that will last forever.

I personally don't know anyone with a spinal cord injury but one of our team knows two; one had a horrendous mountain bike crash, and the other is a close friend's husband who stumbled on a shallow step and is currently in hospital.  Aspire have helped him so it’s quite poignant that we did this challenge.

For anyone else considering a Relay Channel Swim I would say do it!  Life is short so get out of your comfort zone and embrace the challenge. You will have moments when you doubt yourself and your ability, but the team will help you. And knowing what an amazing charity you are helping is a huge motivator.

My next challenge will hopefully be a Scottish loch next summer… watch this space!

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