Preparing for a Channel Relay swim for SwimTayka

Getting into the cold sea at Dover for a swim may not be everyone’s idea of a great weekend. In fact, it’s possibly more ‘wet’ than ‘great’.

But for the intrepid members of this year’s SwimTayka Channel Relay teams it’s an essential part of their training, and one they all embraced with relish.

Among those who will be swimming this year, to raise funds for SwimTayka, are Rachel Lacey, Lea Millett-Clay, Mark ‘Scotty’ Scott and Jharna Kumawat. They have taken part in two training weekends and found what they’ve learnt invaluable.

Rachel is a haematology consultant working in Buckinghamshire Hospital, and this will be her first Channel swim.

“I always swam as a kid, and used to do galas. After university I got back into it for fitness, but always swam in a pool. It was after lockdown that I first tried open water swimming. I’d taken swimming for granted but found I really missed it, and I’ll never forget how excited I was to get back into the water again.”

Rachel likes to set fitness challenges, and has always wanted to tackle a Channel swim.

“It was a really steep learning curve because I quickly realised it’s not so much about swimming but it’s about everything else – dealing with the cold, swimming in salt water, and coping with choppy water. Before the first weekend, I’d only swum in skins once, so it was a real shock.”

Rachel found swimming in choppy water quite unnerving, so she’s had to learn to deal with the adrenaline and to keep calm.

She added: “I feel my progress between the first and second training weekends has been massive, and I am much more able to cope.”

Lea, who hails from South Africa, is based in London and has a background in corporate marketing and advertising.  She had a career change three years ago, turning her side line as a swimming instructor into her main occupation. Lea now runs one-to-one adult swimming lessons. The Channel Relay Swim is her first big swim challenge.

“I have always been concerned by the fact that underprivileged children have fewer opportunities when it comes to learning to swim. Being from Africa, I had a dream to try to help children in Africa learn to swim and had been planning to volunteer with SwimTayka’s Mozambique project but it fell through. The Channel swim is an alternative way of helping and a great opportunity for me.”

Even though Lea is an experienced swim, she was surprised by how she felt swimming at Dover. “You kind of have a theoretical understanding, but every time you swim in the sea it is different, because it changes all the time – the salt, the density, the temperature are all different. These training weekends have really helped me get a deeper understanding of what it means to be an open water swimmer, and how to adjust your movements, breathing and technique to get the best swim.”

Dealing with the cold Lea found challenging. “I can probably swim for days, but adjusting to the cold was difficult.”

But Lea has found the experience has contributed to her skills as a swimming instructor “You can only take clients are far as you are willing to go yourself. I hope to inspire others and raise awareness for SwimTayka.”

Hailing from India, and moving to the UK 13 years ago, Jharna swam competitively in her home country. She got into open water swimming two-and-a-half years ago when she met a swimming coach, who herself was planning to do a Channel Relay swim.

“I live in Essex and we are spoilt for choice for places to swim here. To start with I wanted to just be able to do a 2km or 3km swim, but I got into it, meeting like-minded people, who all had this love for swimming.”

Jharna now fits her swimming around two young children, “but I have a very supportive husband, who’s not into swimming so that helps!”

Scotty, who serves in the Royal Navy, has always been a keen swimmer, competing at county and regional level when he was growing up. For the Royal Navy, he swims and plays water polo.

“In 1994 I entered an open water swimming competition in Wales and that started a new love affair with swimming, but this time in the open water and not in the pool. Since then, I have swum in loads of places, because the Navy has taken me to some great locations.”

Scotty had just completed the Thames Marathon when he got out of the water, saw the SwimTayka banners and signed up for the Channel Relay then and there. “My Mum reminded me that I had always wanted to swim the Channel as a child, so I think it was fate.”

Scotty has really enjoyed the camaraderie that has built up among the relay swimmers. “I tend to swim on my own so the biggest thing, which I absolutely love, is that the friendship we are building is fantastic. When you’re feeling cold, or tired and someone else swims up next to you and has a little chat, it’s fantastic and gives you the energy to go on. We really draw strength from each other.”

Jharna echoes this sentiment. “Our qualifying swim was 90 mins and at the 83-minute mark I really felt like quitting, but Adam, one of the other swimmers, really kept me going. He said ‘just swim with me’ and I did it. I got out at the end and cried, because I felt so emotional.”

Jharna has an extra challenge, because she is type 1 diabetic. “That was a big challenge but I have now got used to swimming and managing my blood sugar level.”

Scotty added: “We’re beginning to understand how each other swims, so you know when someone’s stroke rate changes, you can immediately see they are getting tired and they need encouragement and keeping an eye on to make sure they are OK. We as a team need to look after each other.”

The Channel Relay swimmers will undertake their challenge over the summer. We wish them all the very best of luck. At SwimTayka, we’re really proud of our Channel Relay swimmers and are very grateful for all the fundraising they are doing.

Do you like the sound of taking part in a Channel Relay? We’ll be running them again in 2023. Why not get in touch to find out more.