Anybody who’s heard about the feat of Channel swimmer Sophie Etheridge cannot fail to be amazed at her resilience.
Sophie, an adaptive swimmer using only her arms, completed the challenge in 29 hours and 4 minutes, which is believed to be a world record for the longest crossing.
Just how this incredible 31-year-old, who has had fibromyalgia and complex regional pain syndrome since 2011, managed to keep going and complete the swim leaves most people scratching their heads in wonder.
Not so the people in her team, including SwimTayka’s very own Channel Relay swimmer, Camilla Golledge. Camilla had the privilege of being on Sophie’s support boat, and though she is in awe of the achievement, always knew Sophie had it in her.
Just how did Camilla end up joining ‘Team Sophie’ in the first place? A swim teacher herself, who took part in our Channel Relays this summer, Camilla said she felt honoured to have been asked. But it nearly didn’t happen…
“Sophie, who I’ve known for a couple of years, had another adaptive swimmer on her team. But sadly, this person had become unwell so couldn’t commit. So, Sophie asked me, back in July, if I’d join the support crew.
“It was so surreal, because the day she asked me I was in Cornwall and my son had just asked if I would swim the Channel again. I said I didn’t think I would, because I’d had such an amazing experience, which I wouldn’t be able to top, but I said I would love to crew for somebody. Three hours later, I had a message from Sophie!”
Camilla wasn’t sure she could help, because Sophie’s window of opportunity for swimming clashed with other commitments. But luckily, when the time for the swim came, Camilla was free and very, very happy to join.
Sophie now had her team, including her sister; Mike Goody, who is water safety ambassador for the Swimming Teachers Association; and Camilla.
The day – or, rather, the night – for the swim came.
Camilla said: “Sophie struggles with access to use the water, so we were unsure how this would work on the boat, however as usual Sophie surprised us and made the drop from the boat to the sea with little assistance.
“When she had her feeds this was also a challenge, as she is unable to tread water while she stops to eat or drink. She will be floating towards the back of the boat and then she has that ground to make up again.”
Sophie, of course, wasn’t aiming to have a world record for the longest swim; she’d wanted to do it in a shorter time. But a combination of tides, waves and currents meant the swim took much longer.
Camilla said: “I felt trepidation at times and just pure amazement that she kept going. We had a few concerns: was she getting fatigued? Was she warm enough? Into the second night we had some really scary waves and she looked at me and said ‘This is really hard’ and that was the first time she had articulated any concerns. We were also getting low on the specific feed she was having, although we didn’t run out.
“At the 20 hour mark, she asked, for the first time, how long she had been swimming. She looked at me, said ‘tell me when it’s 24 hours’ put her head down, and she was off. I honestly don’t know how she did it.”
Twice, Camilla swam alongside (but a little behind) Sophie; the rules allow this, as long as the support swim is for no more than an hour each time, and the swimmers do not touch. These two swims, of about 40 and 20 minutes each, helped Sophie get her stroke rate up again.
Finally, after two nights, and more than 24-hours in the water, Sophie landed in France.
Camilla found the experience one of huge self-development and said she would love to do it again. She also learnt a number of lessons: be up the front where the swimmer can see you; get feeds made up in advance; and spot when the swimmer may be getting cold, so you can give them a warm drink.
One very important lesson is to make sure the team have sea-legs. Sadly, one of the team on board the boat was particularly seasick for the entire swim.
And is Camilla tempted to do the whole crossing?
“I don’t think so, but then I once said a relay crossing wasn’t for me either. For my relay, we had a dream crossing. It was calm, glassy and warm, we saw porpoises, and nobody was seasick. It was just brilliant and in total it took us 15 hours 8 minutes.”
Sophie’s motivation was to raise awareness of adaptive swimming, to encourage more people into the water, and to fundraise for the STA’s Starlight campaign, to upskill swimming teachers and qualify them as specialist disability swimming teachers. Well done Sophie, and well done Camilla. If you’d like to join the elite group of swimmers who have tackled the Channel, why not join one of our relay teams? You can find out more here.