You know that place, France? And how it’s a whole other country and all? And you know how there’s a massive stretch of water between our two countries? Yeah, well someone clearly forgot to tell Annie Shotton that fact. If I want to go to France, I tend to get on a plane, or go through the Channel Tunnel, or maybe hop aboard a ferry. One thing I most certainly do NOT do, is think, “Hmm, I know, I’ll swim there.” But then I am not Annie Shotton (which I’m sure her family are delighted about).
Annie lives in Hove with her husband, Dan, three kids and their puppy – so, basically, five kids! (Sorry Dan). As if running such a busy household wasn’t enough, she’s also a children’s nurse at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, where she’s worked for over 14 years. And as if that wasn’t enough, over the past two and a half years, she’s somehow managed to squeeze in a training regime to enable her to tackle one of the most notoriously demanding challenges to both mind and body: swimming the English Channel.
One of the busiest shipping lanes in the word, with hundreds of tankers, ferries and, no doubt, Jane McDonald passing through it every day, the challenge is not only a daunting one, but a dangerous one. On top of that, the shortest possible route to make the crossing is 21 miles: that’s almost a marathon – and in choppy, cold, kraken-infested (maybe) water. Or, put another way, that’s like swimming from Brighton seafront to Crawley town centre!
However, I’m happy to report that Annie isn’t taking on this challenge just because it’s difficult, nor for reasons (as you might understandably assume) of self-castigation. Instead, she’s taking on this gargantuan feat for the altogether more wholesome cause of raising money for her beloved hospital, as she told me when we spoke.
Let’s dive straight in (thank you) – what on earth possessed you to decide to swim the Channel??!
I have written a blog – channelswimmingmum.net – if you want the long answer(s)! Short answer is I like swimming, I wanted an adventure, I wanted to inspire people to live life to the full, at whatever stage they’re at, and to not give up when things get tough! And I wanted to fundraise for the hospital.
Have you ever done anything like this before? Have you always been into swimming? I’ve always liked swimming and love the water, especially outdoors! But I have never done anything like this before!
How much training have you done for it? Where and who do you do it with? I signed up on Christmas Eve 2018 so have been training for 2.5 years. I was advised to get 2 winters in the sea under my belt to get used to the cold. Training has involved several swimming lessons, to get better technique, strength and conditioning training to get stronger, lots of sprint training in the pool in the winter (or rowing when the pools all shut in lockdown) and then lots of LONG swims over the last few summers. I swam back from the windfarm in 2019, swam Lake Windermere 2020 and this summer have done several 6-, 7-, 8-, even 10-hour swims either off Hove beach or in Dover harbour! I try and swim with friends as much as possible but the reality is a lot of it has been on my own. I can’t wait to add up all my stats, hours/distance swum etc!!
When are you doing it? My tide window starts 28 July. I will ring my skipper every evening from 27 July, once he has received the latest weather forecast for the Channel that day, and as soon as he says we are good to go me and Dan and our crew will be jumping in the car and whizzing off to Dover!
What will you be wearing? (Not in an inappropriate way!) Will you be covered in lard? (If I had a pound for every time I asked someone that…) I will wear a normal swimsuit, a swimming hat and googles. No wetsuits allowed if you want the swim to be officially ratified. We basically have to do it how Captain Webb first did it in 1875! I’m not sure about lard – I could have some on me to keep warm but hopefully this week of beautiful sun is warming the sea up by a few more degrees! I’ll definitely have Vaseline to stop chafing!
How long do you estimate that it will take you? I hope it will take me under 15 hours… around 12 would be amazing! I’m looking at it like a long shift at work! Haha!
Will you have a support boat? If so, who’ll be in it? If you could have one famous person in the boat too (or instead!), who would you choose to have? My support boat is called the Viking Princess II. I LOVE the name! My husband Dan will be onboard, as well as a few friends to cheer me on, make me smile and feed me! No idea about a famous person?! Someone to make me laugh or someone to make me swim?! Maybe Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to ever swim the Channel in 1926.
Have you followed a specific diet? Are you essentially allowed to eat everything and anything you want all the time to get the required calories in you? (If so, sign me up.) I eat A LOT. Definitely an upside to all the training! Although I have found it surprisingly difficult to eat a lot of good food… It’s easy to get calories from chocolate but that doesn’t actually fuel my body well! But that is all trial and error and working out what works for me along the way.
You’re doing this incredible feat to raise money: who for? I’m raising money for the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. I’ve worked there for over 14 years. I love it and I want to help it be even more.
How will the money help? I basically went round each ward, chatted to nurses and doctors and managers and asked if there was anything the wards needed. Kinda handy working there! People came back to me with lists of things they needed and I’m trying to work my way through as much of that as I can, lots of equipment, machines etc. A big thing for me at the moment is trying to support the increasing number of young people coming into hospital struggling with their mental health. I feel like I won’t really scratch the surface but I know I can make a difference, even in a small way.
Why were you inspired to raise money for them (other than them being a phenomenal institution)? I LOVE the NHS! And I love the Royal Alex. I love the ethos of healthcare “for the many, not the few.” I love that everyone, no matter who you are or how much money you’ve got, can be treated with the same respect and dignity and health services. And, while no one ever wants to be in hospital, I love that I get to try and make people’s worst days better. But it is as clear as day that the NHS is struggling, especially in the wake of COVID. Waiting lists are getting longer, services are being stretched, healthcare workers are worn out… It does make me sad. But I figured, while I’m swimming, I might as well do something good with it! And try and put my money where my mouth is. Or rather put other people’s money where my mouth is! Ha!
How can our readers donate? I have a JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/channelswimmingmum. There is also a text line, text BIGSWIM to 70085 to donate £5. Obviously, text as many times as you want!
What are you dreading most about the day? I’m trying to focus on all the positives! I don’t want to give precious headspace to my worries and fears, they tend to get bigger that way. But it is a pretty long way! I want to make it, I want my shoulders to hold up, I want to enjoy it, I don’t want to give up.
What are you looking forward to most? My hand going into the water, scraping the sand/pebbles on the bottom as I hit the beach in France, clearing the water, hearing the boat’s siren and knowing it is done. And I will collect the French pebble that I have been training for all this time. Boom.
What are you going to treat yourself to first after you’ve finished? A cold fizzy drink will probably be what I have first! Then I’m sure I’ll eat and sleep a fair bit! And I already have a massage lined up to help iron me back out!
Have you got any other challenges lined up next? NO!! Maybe I will do another challenge one day, right now I can’t think of anything better than chilling out over the summer, enjoying time with my family and friends and being able to swim for the pure enjoyment.
You can still donate to Annie’s incredible fundraising efforts, where your money will go to help staff and patients at the even more incredible Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, right here in Brighton. To do so, please visit Annie’s Just Giving page [ https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/channelswimmingmum ]
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