Looking back on 2006: From MBE to Doctor in a year

It hardly seems like a year ago since the press bombarded me with congratulations on the announcement that I had been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for my ‘Services to Swimming and Charity’. Whilst I’ve been used to media attention over the years, having 15 World Long Distance and Channel Swimming Records, I had to say of this prestigious honour, it was the ‘icing on the cake’!

My swimming career began in 1978 with Junior records on Windermere and Morecambe Bay (each ten miles), with a current fastest British Junior solo crossing of the English Channel the following year in 10 hours 9 mins, aged only 15. At that tender age, I had already raised a large amount of money, which helped the Fylde Hospice begin, in Blackpool, the town where I was born. I could not have imagined that 27 years later, I would be receiving an MBE – the girl who in her early years was nicknamed ‘peaches’ because of the amount she ate during her swims, and in her later years re-named the ‘Madfish’ because of her extra-ordinary achievements!

On February 24th, 2006, I travelled down to London with my family: Mum, Dad, John, Alison and Caitlin, a very excited group. I had some years ago received my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award as a teenager, but that day, was something even more special. Buckingham Palace was the scene of my MBE Investiture. For once, it was a pleasant change to wear a different kind of hat, other than my Aqua Sphere ‘hat and goggles’ recently referred to in a media article as ‘ my headset’!!

Duly at 10.30am that morning, Prince Charles and I greeted each other; his first words were “ I hope I’ve not interrupted your training today”. Wow, it was rather funny; I reciprocated with a smile and many more jovial words, after which he ‘attached my MBE’, and I gracefully exited. It was one of those moments when I had to make sure not to turn the wrong way after retiring backwards a few steps. Fortunately, my skills at step coordination were as good as my swimming stroke!

At the start of February 2006, I had turned a mere 42 years of age. I always knew that life began at 42, not 40 as the saying goes! Anyone would have been more than content with an MBE, and I was. However, a couple of months later I received a letter from the Vice Chancellor of Loughborough University – the University from which I graduated and now work as a part time PE lecturer. On opening it, there was even more joy, the news that they were to confer upon me, an Honorary Doctorate for ‘My Outstanding Achievements and Charity Work’. This, I was to receive later on in the year. There are several graduation ceremonies throughout the year; however, due to the fact that I had more record breaking swims on the agenda for the summer, my day was to be in December (more about that in a moment!)

From ceremonies, I decided that it would be pleasant to take a break by ‘Butterflying’ myself into the record books again. As most of you will know, it is my ‘butterfly exploits that have taken me to many different locations across the world. In the 90’s, I’d returned from Canada, where I was Head Swimming Coach, to astound my best friend (who’d come on the rowing boat) at the time, by becoming the first ever person to swim England’s longest lake, Windermere (10.5 miles) using the buterfly stroke. From there, I conquered all the famous Cumbrian lakes, Ullswater and Coniston during that decade. Having already swam the English Channel in front crawl , I decided to attempt it using the hardest stroke in the book, butterfly. Yes, most people thought I was mad!! It was a ‘dream’ a goal to aspire to.

Vincent Van Gough once said, ‘I dream my painting, then paint my dream’. AND this is what I did in 2002, when I became the butterfly world record holder (by over 9 hours) and the first person ever to swim The English Channel using two different strokes. My butterfly solo took me 14 hours 18 minutes.

So what of 2006? My butterfly ‘Loughs and Lakes’ exploits saw me travel the UK and to Ireland, doing various BLDSA championship swims, which had separate records for frontcrawl and breaststroke. I wanted to inspire people, to have a go at these events on butterfly and show that it can be done: ‘put your mind to it’. Already, I’ve had a guy decide he wants to do one of his events ‘fly’ in 2007.

Llyn Tegid (Bala 6 miles) was reported in Novembers’s issue of ‘Swimming Times’, though I’m not aware that the rest of my butterfly records have been. The season began for me with Colwick Park, Nottingham 4km, a great way to start. Peter Hassall (Swim Times Editor) witnessed this event first hand, for which it received a grand write up- thank you. From there, I travelled to Budworth, near Warrington, and swam in a superbly organised 4 mile event. It was nice to butterfly round the course and make a new record. I really hope someone will have a go at the shorter 2 mile one next year…on ‘fly’ of course. Come on you ‘young, fast ones. You can do it!’

The next few weeks saw me travelling to Wykham Lake (2 mile), Bala, (6 mile) and Llyn Padarn, Wales (4 miles), all BLDSA championship swims, and all completed on my favourite stroke, butterfly. The last swim was in Lynne Regis, Norfolk – a 5km in September. Steve Smith, the organiser, presented me with a lovely butterfly trophy, a fantastic way to end a summer of swimming.

Bala decided to have its worse weather in years, but undeterred by strong winds and waves, I managed to plough up and down to finish around the 4 hour mark. On August 5th (the 4th anniversary of my Channel butterfly crossing to the exact date!), saw me enter the waters of Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, in the annual ten mile ILDSA Championship swim. This was a wonderful event and I have to say, the equivalent to Manhattan Island Swim, though the scenery surpassed that of the many bridges and skyline buildings of New York!! No storms (unlike end of Hurricane Dennis in 2005 when I attempted it!!) and only sheep and green fields. Sitting next to a canoeist at the dinner that evening, his question was how many strokes had it taken me? I worked out after 5 hours 42 minutes, my arms must have rotated in butterfly fashion for approximately 13000 strokes!! Its a wonder my shoulders dont resemble those of ‘The Hulk’!! Yet again, it was the first time anyone had completed this swim butterfly and it made the Irish BBC TV.

Following my success over the summer, I received the letter from Loughborough University detailing my Honorary Doctorate Ceremony, which took place Monday 18th December. Once again, my family and friend, Karen Hiles (a fellow swimmer who’d helped on my butterfly Channel swim 2002) were there supporting me, like they have always done throughout my life. It was the best Xmas present I could think to have.

After luncheon attended by the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, The Mayor and Mayoress, along with Lady Gretton, I was hurried along to the Robing Room, were I donned myself in my beautiful gown and cap. With photographs taken, at 2.30pm the Procession including myself, entered the hall, to the musical fanfare. The Honorary Graduands were presented midway through. The Public Orator spoke about my achievements to the audience whilst I stood facing them. It was, indeed, a proud moment to be made a Doctor of the University (DUniv Honoris Causa) by Sir John Jennings, the University Chancellor. Accordingly as Dr Julie Bradshaw MBE, I addressed the congregation with a brief inspirational speech, which was greeted with much applause.

(Indeed, this is something I am working towards doing more of, yes, public speaking. So if anyone out there would like to be inspired, motivated, my talks include all this, plus more. You too can succeed in whetever you choose to do in life. It’s about positive thinking and goal mapping. I look forward to hearing from you out there!)

So what’s in store for 2007? Of course, I’ve got more record breaking swims lined up. As usual I will be doing it for charity, therefore, will be in need of sponsorship, not being a funded athlete. In the pipeline, there’s a couple of relay swims in the UK and Ireland, both of which will be ‘firsts’. As much as I love solo swims, relay events are alot of fun and a great way to encourage people into the sport. Already two former team members have gone on to swim the English Channel solo, and there’s another in store for 2007…her 50th birthday present to herself, to swim the Channel!

That’s where it all started for me, The English Channel when as a fifteen year old, Val Noakes my pilot from The CSA took me across that 19th day of August, 1979. AND to this day, I continue to be heavily involved in this sport. My involvement is not just as a swimmer, but as the new Secretary of The Channel Swimming Association Ltd (yes, something else I’ve taken on 2006), I am first port of call for Channel aspirants from all over the world. It is for me the perfect role to be in, a role where I can continue to pass on my knowledge and help people to success.


“If you think you can, you can

If you think you can’t, you can’t.

Either way you’ll prove yourself right”


07941 467291

[email protected]

Article published Loughborough Echo 11th January 2007
Julie Bradshaw

Published by: Julie Bradshaw