July marked a monumental month for the Flitwick Dolphins, and more importantly the selected swimmers who participated in swimming across the English channel. The event has so far raised over £12000 for charities selected by the swimmers, many of these charities being close to the swimmers’ hearts.

The idea for a channel swim was thought of a considerable time ago. Senior swimmer James McFarland recalls: "I remember Tyler (Watson) asking me if I would be part of a Channel Relay team back in June 2016, and I thought ‘Yes, I can do that’. I couldn't imagine what may be involved, but I still thought that it would be a cool thing to do!”

From that point onwards the idea began to grow into a reality, and once the Events & Fundraising Officer Michelle Watson got involved, the plan for a Channel Swim began to take shape. Master swimmer Alistair Shaw expands on how the club continued to show interest in the charity fundraising event, and how he became involved:

“I was approached by (coach) Judy Thompson and Michelle Watson in November 2016 on a rainy Wednesday night training session to see whether I may be interested in taking part in the cross Channel swim. Having only been a member of the club for 10 months at that stage and having never done any open water swimming, I was initially reluctant to commit to taking part. After further consideration, I realised that I hadn’t challenged myself or taken part in any significant Charity Challenge since completing the Great North Run in 2011. I felt it would be a great opportunity to take part in, a great team event and allow me to raise more money for a charity held very close to my heart, Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.”

Great Ormond Street Hospital is only one of the charities that the Channel Swim supported. The other charities selected by the swimmers are: Guide Dogs UK, Save the Children, World Vision, Mind UK and Vasculitis UK.

Many of the swimmers, including Alistair, had not been involved in any form of open water swimming. This is one of the reasons for the intense three months of training that the Flitwick Dolphins Channel Relay Team underwent. The lake at Box End, Kempston was visited by the swimmers in order to get some experience in open water swimming. Head coach, Nigel Halford also runs training sessions there for any other swimmers who wish to experience swimming in a lake. Alistair outlined his feelings about the first time he embarked on open water training:

“My first open water experience was in the lake at Boxend on the 20th May 2017. The water temperature was 14 degrees and consequently, on immediately entering the water, I felt it may be my first AND LAST 5 minutes of open water swimming! Once I got used to the cold I actually quiet enjoyed the experience of open water swimming and haven’t looked back, despite the fact I was a cold, shivering wreck for about 45 minutes after that first swim.”

The next challenge presented to the Channel Relay swimmers, was completing their two hour assessment swims in the sea at Dover. The first of the group to pass the assessment swim was Club Captain Katie Tompkins. This involved swimming in sub 16 degree water, for the full two hours. James McFarland reflected on his assessment swim, which he completed two weeks after Katie:

“I was still in the middle of my GCSEs but I felt that I needed to go to Dover much earlier than I planned because the sea temperature was rising rapidly. That Saturday morning swim was undoubtedly the hardest part of this whole challenge. It became really difficult. I carried on until about 1 hour 45 minutes and then was ready to give up. Thankfully Isaac was cheering me on from the beach, and Alistair encouraged me by joining me for the last few minutes!

The swimmers spent whole weekends training in Dover, the first of which was the 3rd/4th June. This was a great opportunity for the relay team to gain an understanding for what swimming the channel would involve. In addition to the 15 degree water temperatures proving a struggle for the swimmers, in the words of Alistair Shaw “The boredom was also a big factor to deal with. There are only so many songs you can sing to yourself!”

After all of the training and anticipation for when the channel swim may be taking place, the weather added another obstacle for the whole team to overcome. Rough tides, and stormy conditions meant that the pilot had to continuously postpone the relay. Until spontaneously on the 24th of July, the go ahead was communicated to members of the Relay Team.

The relay took place on the 25th July 2017, not giving the team members much time for preparation!

Senior swimmer Tyler Watson (13) outlines the events of the beginning of the crossing, and his experience while swimming the channel:

“At 8:54 Alistair set off. The swim had started and after that I had a 5 hour wait until my turn to swim. I was worrying a bit, because there was a big chance that I could be sea sick. After 4 hours and 50 minutes I got my stuff ready and went to the side of the boat. At 1:54 I heard the horn and jumped in and swam around Isaac… my hour had started. During my hour I got stung a few times but other than that not much happened. I carried on swimming until Eloisa got in. I felt, as we all still do, really proud and happy. All of the training paid off and we swam to France in 12 Hours and 4 Minutes!”

As the swimmers have neatly summarised, their channel swim was a huge success. The club would like to thank Michelle Watson for putting in such great effort, and to all of the coaches for giving up their time during training. Lastly, a huge well done and congratulations must go to the swimmers for taking part in something that is an impossibility for many people!

The channel swim team was: Katie Tompkins, Isaac Moon, Alistair Shaw, Eloisa Miller, Tyler Watson, James McFarland and Emma Boost. Chloe Ford and Demi Narang also trained with the team, although they did not take part in the actual swim.

To conclude, in the words of Isaac Moon: “I am proud of my achievement and the money raised - I would like to raise more so we can help the charities. I'm now looking for my next challenge with the team!”

James Handler
Press Officer

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