Last month, a very brave man called Steve Weatherley attempted his first Channel swim, to raise money for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
He *almost* made it.
Steve tells the story of his turbulent – not to mention chilly – challenge on his fundraising page.
We decided to get in touch with Steve to find out more about it all, and here’s what he had to say.
1) How did you decide to take on the massive challenge of swimming the channel? Did anyone encourage you?
The urge to swim the channel came as I watched the Sport Aid footage of David Walliams swimming the channel. I was mesmerised by his decision to tackle such a monumental challenge, despite not being an especially good swimmer, and I was even more amazed and humbled by his incredible determination during all the gruelling training.
Watching the full story, from his first experience of jumping into very cold water and having a panic attack, to his struggle to haul himself out onto the rocks near Calais in a 1 hour documentary, struck something deep within me. I immediately thought that I’d like to have a go at the channel challenge myself. Unfortunately, I uttered my thought out loud to friends and family and, before I knew it, there was no turning back (hoist by my own Speedos, I guess!)
My friends and family were supportive throughout, although I think some of them probably felt I’d get bored with the idea and abandon it. After over 12 months of training, including a brief swim in the North Sea in my trunks and hat almost every Sunday throughout the Scottish winter, most of them realised that I was serious about it.
So, I must confess that my main motivation for doing the swim was a selfish one – the need for a personal challenge to stretch myself, rather than the desire to raise money for charity. But, having decided to do it, the natural thing to do was to try to raise some money for a good cause.
2) How did you choose to raise money for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society?
I’ve always been very keen on helping animal charities in particular (though not exclusively).
I found out about the WDCS after watching a harrowing documentary about a village in Japan where there is an annual hunt for dolphins which involves herding hundreds of them into shallow water, surrounded by a net and then hacking them up with hooks and pulling them onto flatbed trucks still alive.
The documentary showed the actor from the original Flipper TV series who has dedicated his life to bringing these cruel events to the attention of the world and campaigning to end them. I was very moved by his devotion to this cause and decided that I should also try to do something about it. So, I contacted the WDCS to make a donation and learn more about their amazing work to help the whale and dolphin population.
This was all before I decided to swim the channel. When I made that decision, the WDCS were the obvious choice – after all, I’d be swimming in the whales and dolphins’ territory so it seemed only fair.
3) What sort of preparation did you do?
I started by contacting a great organisation called the Channel Swimmers and Pilots Federation (CSPF). They are one of the well-recognised organisers for channel swims. And they have the incredible Streeter family at their core.
Freda Streeter is the grand-dame of channel swimming. She is simply amazing in her support and commitment to the sport. She can be found every Saturday and Sunday from March through to end September without fail, from 8am-4pm, on the pebble beach at Dover harbour where she provides support and guidance to hopeful channel swimmers. She’s known as “the General” and the swimmers are her troops!
Her daughter, Alison Streeter, is the world record holder (of both men and women) for swimming the channel the most times. She has done it 43 times and that includes doing several 2 way swims and one 3 way swim. In other words, she swam from Dover to Calais, then back again, then back over again non-stop!! It took her about 36 hours – quite incredible.
Alison and her brother, Neil Streeter (also a fine swimmer), are now well established boat pilots who escort swimmers across the channel. I felt incredibly lucky when I was able to secure Alison as my boat pilot for my channel attempt.
Having registered with the CSPF and booked my boat pilot and date for the swim, I then knuckled down to my training plan. Throughout the winter months I mainly focused on pool training although I did do a weekly swim in the Firth of Forth at Gullane (near Edinburgh) in just my trunks and cap to try to acclimatise to the cold water I would experience in the channel.
I also attended two swim training camps in Malta and Croatia run by an excellent specialist holiday company called SwimTrek. Many of them are channel swimmers and they are wonderful at helping to prepare you for the big swim, physically and mentally. They’re also great fun so you get a great holiday and great training all in one.
As the winter months turned to spring and summer, I moved from the pool into the sea for longer and longer swims – 2 to 6 hours at a time. I also went down to Dover harbour a few times to swim with Freda’s troops – that was the best training and there was a great sense of camaraderie.
In fact, even though I only met most of the other swimmers briefly and only chatted to them for a few minutes (sometimes bobbing out in the water in the harbour with a seal bobbing nearby!) we formed a strong bond. As it came to the time for each of the swimmers to attempt their solo swim, many of us would receive text updates of how they were progressing across the channel. I can remember receiving texts about 2am one morning saying that a guy I had met briefly was already one hour into his attempt and feeling butterflies in my stomach as I willed him on to complete the swim and pictured myself in the cold, dark water (then I snuggled back into my warm bed and fell asleep again!! – he made it by the way!).
4) What was the actual swim like? What kept you going?
My summary of the swim is on the Justgiving website – here are a few more words about it…
I was pleasantly surprised by how well I coped with the swim, at least until the last couple of hours when unfortunately I couldn’t quite make it. I had the potent combination of a good training plan, lots of adrenaline and some great friends plus Alison Streeter on my boat. Although the water was significantly colder than it should have been (about 15 C instead of 19 C, which it had been just a couple of weeks before my swim), I didn’t really feel it until the very end stage of my swim.
In terms of what kept me going, again it was a combination of things. First, was the sheer adrenaline – I’d been training for this moment for well over a year and I was finally doing it. That was the positive force driving me on. The negative force which stopped me from turning back or jumping on the boat was the sense that I’d told so many people and they’d been so generous in sponsoring me that I really couldn’t just give up.
5) How have you found using Justgiving? What was helpful? What could we do better?
I love Justgiving – it’s made charitable fundraising so much easier and more tax-effective than the old days of sponsor sheets. It’s so easy to use, whether you’re raising funds or donating. And it’s great for keeping your sponsors informed of progress and the final outcome. Being able to add videos and photos is also excellent.
My only suggestion for improvement is that I kept getting tripped up by the 20 minute time-out and losing lots of material that I’d been writing, which was frustrating.
Thanks Steve – we’ll be rooting for you when you try again next year…
As for your note about our 20 minute timeout, we understand your frustration We’ve been trying to replace our text editor for a while now, and we’re still working on how to do it.
In the meantime, we’ve added a reminder on the page to save your work before 20 minutes is up – then you can always go back and add more.
Please send any more feedback and ideas to us at firstname.lastname@example.org