A group of six Watford-based teenagers are preparing to tackle high tides, low temperatures and lurking jellyfish in a cross-channel relay swim, to raise money for their local hospice charity. The crossing, which is approximately 21 miles from Dover to Cap Gris Nez, will be made by members of the team swimming one-hour legs in rotation until they reach land in France.
The team, aged between 13-15, is made up of members of Watford Swimming Club who are making final preparations for the challenge that is due totake place on or around 20 September 2023. The exact date and time of the challenge will be dictated by tides and weather conditions.
The teens are all experienced swimmers who have been swimming with the club for a number of years. In preparation for the cross-channel relay, they have been training in open water since the end of April, when the water temperature was around 14c.
Acclimatising for the conditions of the challenge has included cold showers as well as long swims outdoors. Each member of the team completed a qualification swim in June of this year that saw them swim continuously for 2 hours outdoors in water that was less than 15.5c.
The challenge is the brainchild of Jeremy Irvine, Vice-chair of Watford Swimming Club and open water swimming coach. Jeremy is no stranger to the rigours of the challenge, having completed a solo swim of the English Channel in 2014.
To inspire the swimmers Jeremy gave them each signed copies of Tom Gregory’s book ‘A Boy in the Water’ – a memoir of Tom’s own cross-channel swim at the age of just 11.
Jeremy says: “What this group of young people has achieved in the training alone is remarkable. When I think back to the beginning of our training they were, understandably, nervous about the water temperature, the distance and the challenges to overcome with a cross-channel relay. But the resilience and confidence they’ve developed over these months of training is remarkable to see.
“They’ve not only shown complete dedication to their training but have really bonded as a team as well. As with any relay, it’s a real team event. If one swimmer was unable to complete their leg of the relay, the challenge would be off. So the swimmers have been amazing at working together as a team and spurring each other on.
“This team spirit will be so important on the day. The vessel we’ve chosen for the challenge is low to the water. I want the swimmers to be able to see their teammate who is in the water at the time, to speak to them and cheer them on.”
As well as training for the temperature of the water and the strong tides, the young swimmers have trained for swimming in the dark, as the challenge will begin before sunrise.
Jeremy continues: “Swimming in the dark in the open sea would be a lot of people’s worst nightmare! It’s an important part of this challenge and we’ve trained for it as a team, by making it fun. We did a training swim in Bournemouth to view fireworks from the pier at 10pm. Getting into the sea, in the dark didn’t feel so daunting when we did it all together with a fun purpose – watching the fireworks. And now our swimmers have tackled that, there will be less unknown to it on the day.”
When asked about the fundraising, Jeremy added:“Rennie Grove Peace Hospice Care is a well known and loved charity in the area. The Peace Hospice is an iconic building in the town and most local people know someone who has benefitted from the excellent care and support that is provided there. We wanted to use the challenge to achieve something good that goes beyond swimming and we’re proud to be raising money to support people in our community who are diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.”
Gemma Norris, Community Fundraising Manager at Rennie Grove Peace Hospice Care, says: “The lengths that our supporters go to, to raise money for the charity, never cease to amaze me. And this is a remarkable challenge. To tackle a channel swim at any age takes huge amounts of work, dedication and resilience, so to see a group of young people tackling this challenge together is incredible. I’d like to thank them for all their hard work in both training and fundraising ahead of the day, and wish them the very best of luck when the big day comes.”