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Jennifer channels her motivation for monumental challenge

Jennifer Laffan
Jennifer Laffan is about to begin her Master’s in Architecture at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment, after spending the last year on placement. As if studying was not enough, Jennifer undertook the challenge of a lifetime and swam the English Channel.

At 02:48 on Friday 11th September, I started the last part of a journey of a lifetime. I stood on Shakespeare Beach, Dover with my hands in the air, looking out at the busiest shipping lane in the world and after 14 hours 27 minutes of swimming, I reached Wissant Beach, France.

It's something only around 2,000 people (700 women) have completed, far more have summited Everest.

The swim, at its shortest point is 21 miles. The rules stipulate that the swim must be done in a standard swim costume, cap and goggles, no wetsuits are allowed. The swimmer also must not touch the boat, meaning to refuel, I was thrown food and drink and had to tread water to consume it. All of this was challenging enough, before even thinking about the 51,330 strokes between me and France.

Training wise, I was prepared. Swimming in the North Sea is much colder than swimming in Dover, and the jellyfish here pack a nasty punch. Over the last few years I have completed many endurance sea swims from 3 hours up to 11, not to mention many 10km (400 lengths) swims in RGU Sport’s pool.

The swim was enjoyable but tough. I had a niggle in my shoulder from the start and swimming in the middle of the night was tiring and disorientating. The first 6 hours were smooth. I had a few fish nibble me, some passing ships, and a beautiful sunrise to keep me going. There were a few moments when I was scared, thinking about the depth of the water below me or how far I was from land but these passed. Around hour 8, things got tough, I had been stung by a jellyfish and general tiredness took its toll. The same tiredness returned at hour 12 just as I missed Cap Gris-Nez (this happened because the tide started pushing me the other way). France looked so close but I knew it was still miles away.

About an hour after that, my pilot told me I was doing great and started cheering me on. This was a huge relief as it meant I stood a real good chance of finishing the swim. I reckoned I had 5km left and they were the most enjoyable kilometres of the whole swim.

A while later I saw the beach, and for once it wasn’t so far away. My pilot shouted “Jen, swim to the beach” and I did. I swam to the beach, which was populated by French locals, ran clear of the water, raised my hands and that was it, an indescribable feeling of fulfilment and pure happiness. I was an English Channel swimmer.

Massive thanks must go to so many people: My support team, boat pilots, family and friends.

I have raised over £1200 for the RNLI, which will go towards saving more lives at sea.

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