Masters Channel Relay swim – Aspire Jackals team

Recently three Masters swimmers completed a channel relay as part of a six-person team, swimming from Dover to France. Well done to Gina H, Liz GH and Sarah De. Here Gina recounts what the swim was like for her! 

On Sunday morning I went back to the beach to sit and reflect on what the Aspire Jackals team did a couple of days before when we swam across the English channel. At 0200 on Friday 7 July I slid off the side of our support boat, the Gallivant, into murky looking water and swum 50m to shore to stand, spotlighted, under the white cliffs of Dover. With a brief opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of what we were about start and to consequently feel pretty small, the horn sounded and off I went. Physically, I found that first hour swim from 0200 the most challenging: I lost feeling in my hands and feet pretty much straight away; I struggled with positioning myself so that I could see the boat in the dark, not be blinded by the spotlight beaming down on me, and avoid the diesel fumes; and then my mind occasionally drifted into thinking about what might be beneath the surface. I was glad to be given the sign I had 15mins to go – and was disappointed to find that those final 15mins were tortuously long. Time did very weird things for all of us in those end stretches!  

The Jackals team came together at the end of 2021 as a group of local friends of friends’, all triathletes or Masters swimmers. We fancied the idea of giving a channel relay swim a go and raising money for charity (Aspire) at the same time. We were scheduled to attempt our swim in Sept 2022. Cue spending the spring and summer of 2022 jumping into various lakes, reservoirs, and bits of the south coast to make sure that we were properly prepped for the challenge. And then the weather stepped in. We were unlucky to hit an unsettled period where there were no long windows of calm seas and little wind. We had to postpone and accept that 2022 wouldn’t be our year. While this was very frustrating at the time, in hindsight I think it brought the team together and meant that we really appreciated having the opportunity in early July 2023. And when the weather gods properly smiled on us it was the icing on the cake.  

My second and third swims (getting in at 8am and then 2pm) were idyllic in comparison to the first. Beautiful blue/green sea, amazing water clarity, the sun baking down, and barely a ripple. I’ve watched some of the video of these swims and I just relax – which doesn’t feel right as at the time I definitely wasn’t relaxed while I powered on as hard as I could. There’s an odd disconnect but seeing myself float along just makes me exhale and feel at peace. And then, just 12hrs40mins after starting, I had the privilege of finishing our swim on rocks just down the side of the Cap Gris, with the rest of the team jumping in so we could swim in and touch land together.  

I’m not sure what my expectations were of how I would feel after. I do a lot of ploughing up and down a swimming pool, so technically 2-3 hours of swimming was physically in my comfort zone. But this was swimming at max for sustained periods (not my normal 50m dash!), in the middle of a not very warm sea, not to mention a busy shipping lane, managing sleep deprivation and possible sea sickness, and all the good things that the sea can throw at you (jellyfish – gah). Safe to say I was absolutely physically broken by the end – I had to be literally peeled off the floor when Dave came to pick me up and over the weekend I slept for 22 of the 48 hours. My brain felt pickled, my spine was as stiff as an old twig, and my arm was sporting some nice jellyfish welts. Safe to say I underestimated the physical demands!  

And then I think about the team of six swimmers, plus our Aspire team leader. A group which didn’t really know each other at the start of this journey. Who shared over the course of that boat trip some of our biggest vulnerabilities, challenges, highs and lows. We were there to support one another, to be a crutch when we saw it was needed, and ultimately come away feeling a powerful sense of belonging. Not forgetting raising a good chunk of cash for a deserving charity. I definitely underestimated the power of a team and the magnified sense of shared achievement by doing something hard with a lovely group of people.  

And so now it’s back to reality. The pull of a shared goal isn’t there anymore and it can be easy to feel at a bit of a loss and lacking some purpose. One of my reasons for writing this it to recognise that we asked a lot of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally and to turn straight from that into the next challenge might not be the healthiest – re-charging is probably very necessary. I’ll be taking it easy for a bit and enjoying the glow of creating memories which will stick with me for a very long time.  

Gina Hobson, Marlins Masters Swimmer