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Tooting Bec swimmers raise over £11,000 for charity with channel challenge

A group of swimmers from Tooting Bec Lido swam the English Channel last week to raise money for three charities close to their hearts. 

Lisa Peake, Lorraine Jeffcoat, Sue Rentoul and Vanessa Cowie – also known as the ‘Channel Crackers’ – completed their challenge on Thursday last week and have raised nearly £11,500. 

They landed on the shores of Wissant Bay, France in a time of 15 hours 35 minutes on Thursday, although the time still needs to be ratified. 

Speaking to SWLondoner, Lisa detailed what it was like to have finally completed the challenge after many months of preparation. 

She said: “So we walked up on the beach together, and it was literally the most emotional thing that you could ever feel.

“We’ve been training together for over a year, more like a year-and-a-half and it was the culmination of so much.

“We’re all going through things ourselves, and the Channel was something that we were focusing on, the training is something we were focusing on to try and cope with some of the things that have been happening.

“So it was just a combination of that and we had, there was just no feeling like it, I’ve simply never felt anything like it!”

channel crackers tooting bec swimmers
TAKING THE PLUNGE: The women had been preparing for the swim for nearly two years

The ‘Channel Crackers’ team decided to take the plunge nearly two years ago over a conversation in the café at Tooting Bec Lido, where they are members of the South London Swimming Club.

Lisa explained: “There’s a lovely chap at the lido who buys a Channel place or two for the club every year, and it gives the people in the lido who might not necessarily think that they were good enough to it or think of applying themselves, the opportunity to go for the impossible.

“So, it might be slightly less confident swimmers and so people who’ve not been swimming, an awfully long time or people who think that I can swim overnight or in open seas, or whatever.

“He sorts out all the admin he pays for it and then we pay him back, but it just removes so many barriers to having an opportunity to do something that most people wouldn’t consider and so, that’s when we took it up.”

The four were joined in the boat alongside their reserve swimmer, Nicole Murray, who was on hand to offer moral support, make cups of tea and take some snaps of the adventure.

Mick Hinde was originally set to be a member of the team, but was forced to drop out after health issues last year. Nevertheless, he was there to give encouragement from home on the day. 

channel crackers swim
SEA SWIMMING: The ladies had to become accustomed to the cold and risky waters as they trained

The swimmers had to try and find ways to continue to train throughout lockdown, in which many leisure centres and pools were closed, making things much more difficult.

Lisa said: “It was hard during lockdown because everything was shut, our lido was shut, the pools were shut so we couldn’t do any speed training.

“We would go indoors where we could indoors and do sets and speed training, and then we’d have sessions in the lido there but those are only 45 minutes, so you can’t do any long distance.”

They utilised spaces such as the River Thames and Shepperton Lake for longer swims, four to five times a week to train without wearing a wetsuit, in order to become acclimated to the sort of conditions and temperatures they would face. 

Lisa herself has overcome immense fears to get to the point at which she could participate in a Channel swim. 

She added: “I think the biggest thing for me is, anyone can do it if they really want to.

“I had a huge water phobia as an adult and I only learned to swim as an adult, four years ago, so you can do it!

“Lorraine, she had never swum at night before, ever. The first time that she ever swam at night was on the Channel and she’d only got in the sea two years ago, so she’s done lots of sea swims.

“You need to be able to swim in the sea as well so you can’t just swim in an outdoor Lido and think that you can manage the Channel!”

suva channel crackers boat
SUVA: They arrived to a woman who had been tracking their swim on their boat

It wasn’t just friends, family and fellow swimmers who had been tracking their journey along the way as they had a surprise spectator waiting when they got to the other side. 

Lisa shared: “When we got to the beach when we landed, there was a lady that came up and said, ‘Are you on Suva?’ which is the name of our boat because obviously, there are people in France, who love seeing the Channel swimmers come in. 

“So she was tracking us and she took pictures of us and they were on social media, on the Channel Facebook group, before we even got back to the boat!”

The money raised will be split between ​​Mind, Diabetes UK and The National Brain Appeal’s Rare Dementia Support Centre Fund.

If you want to donate to the Channel Crackers fundraising page, click here

Image credits: Nicole Murray

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