How and Why to swim the Channel

Sometime between the 13th and 20th August Naomi Vides will attempt to swim the English Channel. She is taking on this iconic challenge in honour of her sister, Nadya, who has Rett Syndrome and to raise money for a cure. Here she tells her story.


By Naomi Vides

No one thought Nadya would ever be able to swim. Floating horizontally and being submerged  in water are two things in a long list that my Rett sister finds deeply uncomfortable. Years of Learn To Swim lessons yielded little - if any - improvement. Nonetheless, Nadya enjoyed trips to the swimming pool, splashing around in the shallow end, so we’d take her almost every weekend. One day, when Nadya was eleven, she slowly made her way towards the deep end while we weren’t paying much attention to her. She went deeper and deeper until her feet no longer touched the floor and her face was just barely above the surface, but she wasn’t sinking... she actually seemed quite pleased with herself.

That was the first time Nadya swam. She proved us all wrong, and she did it her way.

Swimming runs in my family; both my brother and I have swum competitively since we were young and my dad is a keen open water swimmer ('I have my own built in wetsuit' he likes to joke). I’ve always said I would swim the Channel, but assumed that it would happen at some far away time when I was much more together, had a bit more money and a bit more body fat. However, I am of the belief that I’m the best version of myself when pursuing a dream and so a year ago I decided to book my Channel Solo for this summer.

The challenge is this: swim from Dover to Calais (21 miles as the crow flies, but much further as the swimmer swims, swept back and forth by tides), dodge the shipping traffic (with the help of a pilot boat), don’t get hypothermia (no wetsuits allowed!), and keep yourself adequately nourished to keep swimming for as long as it takes (I’d hope somewhere between 10 and 15 hours). Since April, I’ve spent almost every weekend at the beach, slowly working my way up to longer and longer sea swims. Two months ago I’d never swam continuously for more than two hours and now I’ve swam for nine.

For me, this is and has been a challenge in all senses of the word. I’m scared of the cold, the jellyfish, the burn in my shoulders, the dark, the weather, the boredom and the very real possibility of failing, to name but a few. On top of that, despite my training all having gone to plan so far, I still have a voice in my head telling me how unprepared I am.

I have taken a very unconventional route to this swim - most Channel swimmers are much older than I am and have many more years of open water swimming experience under their swimsuits. Although I’ve been a competitive pool swimmer since I was seven, I’ve only ever dabbled in sea swimming until this year. I’m not very good at believing in myself on the best of days, never mind when you’re five years behind on experience and the aim is to swim so far that you actually need a passport!

All I can do is ignore these things and focus on all the things I am proud of and the positives that have come from this journey. I have met some amazing people in the Open Water swimming community that I never would have otherwise met. I have raised money for an incredible charity. I have been inspired by and hopefully been an inspiration to others. At the turbulent age of twenty two, fresh out of university, my life is currently characterised by crossroads and confusion. Open water swimming has provided me with a deep peacefulness and self belief that I didn’t think I’d ever achieve. Oh, and I’ve got a killer tan.

So here I am - I will attempt to swim the Channel between the 13th and 20th of August 2017. The cost of the swim represents a significant portion of what I have earned this year and the amount of time I’ve spent swimming has basically black hole style demolished my social life. I’m terrified, but I remind myself  why I’m doing it so I never look back. Raising money for Reverse Rett has been a constant reminder to me that whatever my fears are and however hard this will be, Nadya’s fears are greater and more justified and her daily life is harder than any swim ever could be.

Still now, lifeguards at the swimming pool ask sixteen year old Nadya to prove she can swim by herself before allowing her in the deep end. One by one, she proves them wrong. To the outside world it looks like she’s barely staying afloat, but actually, she’s completely at peace - water is the place that she feels most supported.  

I’m not one for platitudes, and I don’t believe that anyone can do anything that they set their mind to. However, hopefully I’ve been honest enough with you that you’ll believe me when I say that I do believe people can accomplish a lot more than the expectations and norms that they and others set for themselves. Some things are impossible, but maybe less than you’d let yourself imagine.

If you would like to support Naomi's epic swim then you can donate to her Just Giving page

You can follow Naomi's efforts by 'liking' her Facebook page Naomi swims to France