UPDATE: Meet the men who SWAM the Channel in aid of Aspire

By James Smith

5th Aug 2021 | Local News

Last month Kenilworth Nub News brought you the story of five men who were training to swim the Channel to raise money for the charity Aspire.

Four of the five-man team are Kenilworth Locals - Nik Collins, Gary Kind, Ashley Ball, and Mark Richards, and all swim at Abbey Fields with the over 30's swimming club on Sunday mornings.

The team were raising money for Aspire, which is a national charity supporting people with spinal cord injuries to help them return from injury to independence.

The 22-mile course was predicted to take around 15 hours for the five men to complete, each swimming one hour legs in a continuous relay.

Having been training for weeks ahead of the day, they were finally able to cross to France this Sunday.

We caught up with Kenilworth Koalas swimmer Nik Collins, on his experience of the day.

Not as glamorous as you would think

It's 4.30 in the morning on Sunday 6 September and somewhere in the pitch black of the English Channel, Mark Richards is struggling to swim in force four conditions.

Mark, swimming the fourth leg of the day, has spent most of the preceding hours being violently ill through sea sickness.

There isn't much in the way of help from the rest of the team back on the support boat either.

Leg one swimmer, Ashley Ball, is suffering from sea sickness, leg two swimmer, Nik Collins, is curled up in the foetal position unable to move. Gary Kind, who swam the third leg, is sat on a seat staring at the non-existent horizon, trying to ignore the queasiness in the pit of his stomach.

A gambling man would have bet his house that there was no way that the Aspire Kenilworth Koalas would make it to France.

Back to the start at midnight, spirits were high

After killing time in Dover for the evening, the team were met by the boat pilot and CSPF independent observer at the marina and made their way to the support boat - West Winds - for the trip.

Whilst there was a chill in the air, the water was flat and the long wait for the trip was over - the team a mixture of nervous and excited.

Packing had been optimistic. Tablets with Netflix series downloaded had been brought, celebratory champagne, a crate of lager, a deck of cards and enough food to keep a family of four out of the supermarket for a week were also on board. It was all unused.

Shortly after 00.40, the support boat made its way from Dover Harbour to the start point at Abbotts Cliff Beach, some 40 minutes away.

The first sign of things to come happened when the boat exited the calm of the harbour and into choppy waters of the Channel proper.

As the boat arrived at the beach, Ashley jumped in and swam to the shore to prepare for the start.

The hooter denoted time had commenced at 01.22 precisely, Ash re-entered the Channel, but got nowhere as he was knocked off his feet by the force of a wave. He had to take a second attempt.

Mark - attempting to film the start into the gloom - had to abort as he was sick for the first time. Ash quickly got going and was neck and neck with another CSPF boat that had started at the same time.

As time got to 02.22, Nik jumped in behind Ash and got going on the second leg.

"I was just pleased to get in the water" said Nik afterwards.

"The boat was horrible to be in and I found the water a much more pleasant environment, after I'd got over the initial cold water shock, it was actually warmer than the air temperature"

The rest fared little better. Marine biologist and Scuba diver Ash was ill, experienced boat leader Alaine Berry likewise and Mark Richards was being constantly sick before he'd even swam a stroke.

Gary's escape was more to do with the copious amounts of travel sickness medications he'd consumed, rather than a natural iron seafarers constitution, as he sat motionless aboard the vessel.

The sun comes up

Nik continued "If it hadn't been for our fifth swimmer Marc Gledhill, I'm not sure we'd have made it. Marc was almost super humanly immune from the sea sicknesses and a huge encouragement and help to everyone else.

It was during Marc's fifth hour that the tide turned both literally and metaphorically. As the high tide subsided and the sun came up things began to improve.

That said, the Koalas weren't out of the eucalyptus yet. 15 minutes before Nik was due to get back in, at 07.22, he hadn't dared move for fear of being ill.

"Anytime I moved just a fraction, I thought I'd be sick. I couldn't keep so much as water down.

"I thought I'd improve mentally when the sun came up, but I felt like death warmed up. I more or less crawled to the start and wondered how I'd get on as my preparation for the second hour was far from ideal"

Nik's worries were misplaced. "The water was an absolute dream. Clear and by far more benign conditions meant this was much, much easier.

"The early morning sun was a joy to swim in, I couldn't believe the contrast from 5 hours previously. I'm not a man of god by any means but it was bordering on a religious experience. It's not something I can put into words"

Despite the improving conditions the evening had taken its toll. Most of the team couldn't stomach food and water was as much as could be taken down. Breakfast was a bag of Haribos for Gary.

Gary and Mark though put in improved second legs before Marc added a typically swift effort. Dolphins and Seals were witnessed on board the support boat, thankfully jellyfish weren't!

Land Ahoy!

Due to the nature of the channel tides, the route in was not straightforward. After leg twelve, France seemed agonisingly close, but then the team had quickly forgotten how close the white cliffs of Dover had seemingly been for hours.

The tides were moving the Koalas along the coast rather than towards the beach. The team had missed Cap Gri Niz - which is the bullseye target and shortest route - and were trying to get into the nearby bay at Wissant which afforded some protection.

It was touch and go whether Ash would need to get in for a 4th run and time was of the essence with some ominous looking clouds in the distance.

Marc powered through and exited the water at Wissant beach at 16.22 much to the bemusement of some French dog walkers.

They managed the crossing in exactly 15 hours.

The rest of the team swam to shore for a brief experience of feet on the ground and the quickest and only foreign holiday of 2020 as the CSPF twitter feed confirmed the unofficial time.

"I spent the 3 hour journey home staring at the horizon trying not to be ill" said Nik "I had images of the return leg being like a Club 18-30 party boat once we'd completed the swim but whilst we were all immensely proud of what we'd done we stared into the distance or slept. We were spent"

Thus far the team have raised over £13,500.

Nik added "We've been overwhelmed by the scale and number of supporters as well as the intense interest we had on our trip over the weekend. I can't thank everyone enough for their support"

You can still donate by following this link to the Just Giving Page.

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