19th world record medley relay channel swim September 2010
“I had thought of this idea back in 2008 and it was all booked. Then disaster struck – because of a rare and debilitating infection contracted from a fish tank (fish tank granuloma), I was forced out of swimming and was even told ‘my swimming days were numbered’ by one eminent doctor in the field. Although I refused to believe this, I cancelled my swim until September2009. In the meantime, recovery took place and in January 2009 I was back in action accomplishing a Triple swim (42miles per length) of Lake Taupo in New Zealand. In September that year I came down to Dover and waited for the weather and tide for the swim to go ahead. It couldn’t have been worse. Rain and gale force winds all week!!
As a result, it was re-scheduled for September of 2010. I was just keeping my fingers crossed this year! So here I was waiting from Sunday 12th. Each day this week had been windy even if the sun has popped its head out. My team were on the other end of the phone waiting for the call to go.
Let me tell you how a Medley relay works; there are four of us and we swim each stroke in the following order – backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and frontcrawl – an hour at a time until completion. For me it was back to my favourite stroke, the butterfly, the one I had achieved my last world record solo Channel swim on in 2002 taking 14 hours and 18 minutes.
After a five day wait, on Friday evening at 7.30pm after listening to the Met forecast, the pilot finally gave us the go ahead. We were all so excited to be going at last after all the planning and training that we had all been doing for such an event. At 6.41am on Saturday 17thSeptember, Susan Ractliffe stepped into the chilly waters at Shakespeare Beach, Dover and began her first arduous task of swimming backstroke. Imagine swimming for an hour, not really seeing where you are going, being blinded by the sun (yes, it did pop its head out during the day!!) and keeping yourself alongside a boat. In a pool you have the ceiling to keep you straight and lane ropes, but not in the Channel. You’d need at least a 22 mile lane line to stretch the distance!! Susan stretched out nicely into her stroke and looked comfortable uttering jovial words as she swam along.
Whilst the sun was out during the day at intervals, the air temperature was extremely cold; in fact there had been an overnight frost so we were all clad in warm clothes– when not swimming! The wind which fortunately was behind us created a large swell which rolled the boat about and the swimmer. Waves were made even worse when huge tankers kept going by; remember, the English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world, and it was certainly busy on Saturday!
After an hour, Pete May prepared himself, and duly entered the water from behind taking over from Susan. Pete had completed his solo in 2008 so was only too keen to get back into his favourite open waters. He reached out into his comfortable breaststroke, reaching forward and gliding over the waves. At one point, he popped out the words, one with each stroke: “I feel like I am surfing”. It’s at times like this that having a good sense of humour and positive attitude that drives you to keep going. After a trouble free hour, it was my turn. The observer gave me the signal of 3 minutes to go so I climbed down the ladder at the back of the boat and dropped ‘quietly’ into the water. Quietly may not be the word, because believe me, when your body goes from warm into a temperature of 15 degrees (compare that to a swimming pool temp of 26 degrees!!) being quiet is not always possible as one may have occasion to make a few utterances under one’s breath!! As I stroked out into my butterfly rhythm, it brought back memories of my solo. The last time I had swam the Channel was in 2004 when I had led the first ever ladies team to achieve a Triple Crossing (England-France to England to France) and the last time I had done butterfly was in 2002, my solo.
I soon remembered what it was like as I glided through the waves, porpoising like a dolphin, using only butterfly arms and dolphin leg kick, an undulating up and down movement of the whole body. Butterfly is renowned as being the hardest stroke in the book: you have to have a lot of upper body strength to keep pulling your arms out together and clearing any swell or waves that there might be coming your way.
The thing about relays is the team -work whether on board or in the water; it’s all part of the swim, encouraging your teammates and helping them out. Coming up the end of each hour, it is ‘lovely’ to know your hour is nearly done as the following swimmer comes on the deck of the boat clad in their swimming gear. For me, I call this one of the nicest sights on the swim!! Taking over from me, and doing the frontcrawl leg, I see Kim Owen. Phew, time to get out, get warm, eat and have a warm drink.
Kim quickly takes over and stretches out into a smooth stroke, moving through the waves and the swell with ease. For Kim, this was her first Channel swim and in true Kim style, she did not let it phase her. Her first hour saw her cover a great distance, enjoying it more with each stroke. I do believe that Kim would have preferred to do it solo than to have got out. You see, that is one of the difficult parts of relays, swimming then having to get out and be on board; for some there is the issue of sea-sickness; for others the cold. It is a different challenge for each person. Kim handled it brilliantly too.
And the day wore on with each of us completing another two swims. One of the highlights for me was doing my last butterfly stint, and swimming past Cap Gris Nez, the finish point of this particular swim. It brought back memories not just of my butterfly solo Channel swim, but of my first swim over 31 years ago when on 19thAugust 1979 I had become the fastest British Junior (aged 15) to complete a solo swim of the Channel in 10 hours 9 minutes…and this Medley relay was going to be my 19threcord. How appropriate this number 19 really is for me!!
I exited my third swim leaving Kim around another 30 minutes of swimming, before she finally reached the French Coast and stepped ashore. What a glorious moment. We had set a new World Record, a first for a relay swim of this nature ie. Medley relay, in 11 hours 29 minutes. This will go down in the records of the Channel Swimming Association Ltd (www.channelswimmingassociation.com). “
And what’s next? Dr. Julie Bradshaw told us ‘Watch this space!’ I always have more ideas and you will be reading about it shortly. For now, it’s back to business as I do motivational speaking and coaching within my own business, expanding people’s potential in business, sport, education and therapy. (www.getset4success.co.uk) I have a few swimmers wanting coaching from me to swim the Channel so I enjoy helping them achieve the same success. You can read all about my previous and further plans on my website.
And what about swimming style? Will it be butterfly or another stroke? Julie told us that high on her agenda is another butterfly feat, “though that doesn’t mean to say I shut doors for the other strokes. Afterall, I set out on my career doing frontcrawl. Relays are always great fun though.”
See below for more:
And more from the Daily News of Open water Swimming