My 26-hour swim around the Isle of Wight was totally worth every tough moment

Published On: Sep 15, 2022

By Army Officer Jessica French

The distance around the Isle of Wight is 96km – about 62 miles – but that is assuming you swim in a straight line. As I discovered, there is nothing straightforward about a 26-hour swim. I had been training for months with my teammate David Baxter. But however much you train, you don’t know what’s going to happen when you put your body through an ordeal like this.

We decided to do the swim as a relay, with one hour on, one hour off. The idea was that we’d get some rest in the hour that we weren’t swimming, but in reality, once you’ve got out of the water, tried to eat something and warmed up, it’s almost time to go back in. The only sleep we got was for one hour when we were swimming backwards because the tide was so strong so we anchored up and got 1hours sleep.

The first couple of hours went by pretty smoothly. At first, I was focusing on the stroke pattern that I’d trained with my coach, making sure I was swimming as efficiently as possible. Then after that I was quite meditative, lost in my own thoughts. For a while I became almost euphoric, blasting through ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ over and over again in my head.

The fun didn’t last, though. A low point came when my second shoulder started hurting. And it wasn’t just pain. It felt like something wasn’t functioning mechanically and I started to worry that I could drown. I asked the support kayak to come closer and for the next hour or so I just mentally spiraled.

I had to totally change my swimming stroke, putting my arm in at a 45 degree angle so it wouldn’t exert too much pressure on my rotator cuff. This meant I wasn’t pulling as much water as before and relying on my legs a lot more. It slowed me down a bit but at least I managed to keep going.

During the tough times, I just reminded myself who I was raising money for. I hadn’t heard of REORG until last year, when I saw Sam Sheriff and Mark Ormrod speak. It was at that point that I decided to raise money for REORG. I work in thr British Army’s Education and Training Services and we deal with resettling personnel when they leave the Armed Forces. It is so important to raise awareness and show support for veterans and military personnel and I am very glad to do anything I can to help.

Dave and I somehow managed to get to the end of our swim with the help of our fantastic, slightly bonkers team! It wasn’t easy but was definitely worth every painful moment. We couldn’t have done it without supporting each other. And that is the same message I see with Reorg. We all need a purpose, and support is everything. If we help each other, we can get through anything.

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