Don’t tell me I can’t... swim the Chan­nel

Aged 51, Wendy Fig­ures shows it’s never too late to take on a chal­lenge

Woman (UK) - - Contents -

My mus­cles ached but I con­tin­ued bat­tling against the sea’s cur­rent as night turned to day. Then, with one last stroke, I made it to the shore. I’d just com­pleted a 22-mile open-wa­ter swim...

I’d al­ways loved swim­ming and had com­peted in galas as a child but, by 26, I stopped to con­cen­trate on rais­ing my daugh­ter Katie, then four. Georgie was born in 1998, and Ella a year later, but my pas­sion never left me, and I loved teach­ing my girls to swim. In Jan­uary 2002, when Ella was three, I de­cided to set up my own swim school at the lo­cal coun­cil pool near my home in Sh­effield

But then in June 2012, a friend men­tioned he’d been open-wa­ter swim­ming in a beau­ti­ful lake 40 min­utes’ drive from Sh­effield. At that stage, I’d only ever swum in a pool or the sea on hol­i­day with my part­ner Paul. But it was the way my friend talked about swim­ming in the open air that fired some­thing in­side me, too. I was 46, and couldn’t imag­ine plung­ing into wild wa­ters, but what was the harm in giv­ing it a go?

It was a bright morn­ing when we met up. ‘Here we go,’ I said, slowly inch­ing my­self into the wa­ter in my swim­suit. De­spite the sun, it was freez­ing. But I was soon pound­ing through the wa­ter, as the en­dor­phins hit me. ‘It makes you feel so alive,’ I said, when I stepped out at the end.

Soon I was swim­ming in the lake ev­ery week­end and with my friend’s sup­port, I started to com­pete in open-wa­ter races, too. The fol­low­ing year I also joined York­shire Out­door Swim­mers, a lo­cally-based group with dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties.

Each year I took on an even big­ger chal­lenge and in 2015 I swam the length of Lake Win­der­mere and back. At 10.5 miles each way, it was hard, but af­ter­wards it got me think­ing – it was only one mile off swim­ming the dis­tance of the English Chan­nel. Could I do that, too? Sea swim­ming wasn’t the same as swim­ming in a lake, but I was at peak fit­ness – and de­ter­mined to give it a try.

There are strict reg­u­la­tions for swim­ming the Chan­nel. Just to qual­ify, I had to swim six hours in wa­ter colder than 15.5 de­grees. It cost £400 to reg­is­ter and I also had to book a pi­lot to ac­com­pany me in a boat. That would cost a fur­ther £3,000, but with Georgie and Ella at univer­sity and Katie, then 27, liv­ing away, I sold my swim school, which meant I could cover the cost. And I worked part-time as a swim in­struc­tor, giv­ing me the chance to train.

Paul and three friends agreed to be my sup­port crew – rid­ing along in the boat for mo­ti­va­tion. I in­creased my train­ing to up to six hours a day and by June 2016 I was cov­er­ing 31 miles each week. Then, in Au­gust 2017, we went to Dover. We had to wait eight days for the waves and wind to be calm enough – it would have been far too dan­ger­ous oth­er­wise. But fi­nally, at 9.50pm one evening, wear­ing my swim­suit, gog­gles and yel­low cap, I set off for France. The swim was re­lent­less. No mat­ter how much I kicked, I didn’t seem to get any closer to France. Waves were push­ing me side­ways and I couldn’t find my rhythm. At one point I was even stung by a jel­ly­fish. But I stopped ev­ery 45 min­utes to re­fuel with home­made smooth­ies and en­ergy drinks.

Then, half­way through my swim, as the sun rose, I saw the coast­line. I was so tired but de­ter­mined to carry on.

Fi­nally, I reached the shore in Calais. I couldn’t be­lieve I’d done it – I’d taken 13 hours and 45 min­utes. The man­ager from one of the restau­rants on the beach even came out to greet me with a glass of cham­pagne.

Back home, all my friends and fam­ily were so pleased for me. It had meant so much to have achieved such a feat.

Now I’m won­der­ing what my next chal­lenge will be.

‘I was at peak fit­ness’

Mum-of-three wendy is so proud of her feat

wendy’s daugh­ters are a great sup­port

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