How hard is it to swim the Channel as part of a relay?

And what advice would you give something thinking about doing a Channel relay? We spoke with Louise Campbell, a partner with Moore Barlow LLP and a member of the Aspire Eagles, who crossed the English Channel as a team of five in 2023

What was the spark that started the adventure?

Moore Barlow has an affiliation with Aspire charity as Moore Barlow and the Aspire charity set up Aspire Law, which is a legal firm created solely for those who have suffered spinal cord injuries and they deal exclusively with spinal cord injuries. It’s something we at Moore Barlow are very proud of – being able to help others and to give back. I am a member of the charity committee and in the summer of 2022, I attended a virtual catch-up with a member of Aspire, Brian Carlin, who happened to mention the various sporting charitable events that Aspire hold. I had a quick look and thought it would be a great idea to get a team together to swim the Channel.

Why did you decide to take up the challenge as a corporate team?

I always intended for it to be a team from Moore Barlow. I really didn’t want to have to look for people outside of MB as I felt strongly that our firm’s connection with the charity made it all the more meaningful and so I was very keen to ensure that it was people who worked at MB who formed the team. It was never really in question that it would be a corporate team and I was fairly confident that I’d easily find another 5 people. In the end, it wasn’t as easy as I thought and only 5 people applied fully intending to go ahead with it. Others who had expressed an interest fell by the wayside when they realised the scale of the challenge.

How did you manage the training and uncertainty around the swim date with your busy working schedules?

Personally, I was lucky in that I have a pool in my village and they ran a lot of lunchtime swim slots. I don’t like exercising in the evening – I’m more of an early bird – and with a family too, I needed to work out ways to fit it all in. My husband also suffered a stroke at the end of April just as we were gearing up for the Dover training weekends and it was hard to fit in this challenge with day-to-day life. (I also decided that year would be a great year to do some building work to my house to include a new kitchen so I was having a great time at this point). We trained for about six months and the training itself wasn’t so much of an issue with work. Only myself and one other had children to consider and so most people were able to easily fit in the training. However, there is one weekend when you go on a Friday too if you want to sample a boat which we were able to attend with approval from MB. When it came to the swim, our tide date was w/c 31st July but we didn’t swim until 20th August so there was a lot of uncertainty for several weeks as to whether we would all be around.

As lawyers with clients and deadlines, this was tricky and our teammates were awesome in being able to pick up any slack if we got called out to sea. As it happened, we were told on the Friday afternoon that we were swimming on the Sunday and so whilst the swim itself was on a non-working day, we were all hanging on the Monday and this was allowed for. For me, luckily I started a fortnight’s holiday on 21st August so I didn’t need to be at work on the Monday but I was starting to get nervous that my holiday might get ruined. Luckily I had planned to stay in the UK for this reason but my family would have been upset if the swim caused issues with our holiday. The others who were meant to be working on the Monday were permitted some time off to recover which I think they needed.

We certainly experienced the ‘Dover Coaster’ in those weeks and it didn’t stop even when we got on the boat as there was still a question mark then as to whether or not we would swim due to the conditions. It was decided that we would let a couple of other boats go first and see what they thought of the conditions before we heeded out ourselves and it was still touch and go until I actually jumped in.

What did you worry about most at the beginning but turned out to not be much of an issue?

The fundraising. Thanks to the generosity of our colleagues, we raised a substantial sum for Aspire and we could not have done it without them. However, the added worry and stress of ensuring we hit our target was at times difficult to deal with along with the training and worrying about what the challenge would actually entail.

What did you not think about initially that surprised you / caught you out / was more difficult than you thought?

I started the swim for us at 2am in the pitch dark. I was very scared. Whilst I had swum in the dark, nothing can prepare you for starting a swim like that except for actually doing it. Looking back at footage now, I can see how scared I was both before and after that swim. I was sick afterwards as well which I don’t think can be attributed to seasickness and I think was more to do with stress, nerves and adrenalin.

What advice would you give something thinking about doing a Channel relay?

You need to really put the training in. For me, I had no doubts about being able to swim. But it’s the unknown – jumping off a boat into the Channel, staying close to the boat but not too close, diesel fumes, chop, waves, sea sickness, swimming in the dark. You can’t necessarily know if you can deal with these things until you are there. Therefore you have to be physically able to swim with no issues at all to give you the brain space to deal with the extra things this challenge throws at you.

How much money did you raise and what’s your best fundraising tip?

We raised just over £21,000 and were the top fundraising team for Aspire. We did the usual – raffles, bake sales. But we also held a netball tournament, quiz and an open garden which were money spinners. We were able to use office premises for these events and have our contacts through work come along. We did a lot of stuff as a team and also a fair bit as individuals and so having that mix really worked. And because it was a corporate team, that meant we could really tap in to the MB contacts and organise different events with their support which really helped with the fundraising. I am convinced that it’s because we were a corporate team and could really work that aspect that we were able to raise so much money for Aspire which we are incredibly proud of.

About swimming the Channel with Aspire

Aspire has been organising Relay Channel swims since 2009, guiding 95 teams successfully to France. That’s well over 500 swimmers, many going on to complete solo crossings and other personal swimming challenges around the world. They provide a wealth of knowledge and experience to help prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead.

Find out more about swimming the Channel with Aspire. Images (c) Jon Wills

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.