FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

In the wake of Mercedes Gleitze

I grew up on the Causeway coast of Ireland in a little seaside town called Portstewart. I am now 33, a wife, mother of two children and I live and work in Warwickshire, England. In my school days I swam regularly for the local swimming club in Coleraine and competed in many galas. 

The stunning Portstewart coastline lies 13 miles south east of Moville in Donegal. I swam in the sea at Portstewart growing up, most days after school and in the holidays, but it always frustrated me having to stay close to shore in the shallows, and I always wanted to swim further.

When I was a child I discovered an old book on my grandparents’ bookshelf which had a photograph and a short text about a girl who swam from Donegal to Portstewart in 1929. I was in awe of her achievement and that day a seed was firmly sown. Her name was Mercedes Gleitze.

I thought, if she could do it, maybe I could. Did she even have goggles? She probably had a super heavy woolen swimsuit too. Little did I know that when I started planning this swim I would find out that Mercedes wasn’t just any girl, she was one of the world’s best swimmers and the first British woman to swim the English Channel. 

Mercedes Gleitze

Mercedes Gleitze

In 1929 English born Mercedes (1900–1981) swam between Donegal and Portstewart in 8 hours. She swam the English Channel in 1927 and was the first person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar. She established endurance records for swimming, including a record of 46 hours in 1932. She was an inspiration to many women, and still is to me.

In summer 2015 I decided that, at the age of 33, it was now or never, and if I never attempted this swim I would forever regret not trying. I might not be the fastest swimmer, but I have strength, endurance and a great amount of determination. I love to swim and find there is nothing better after a busy day than diving into the water and feeling instantly relaxed and rejuvenated. I also love the adrenaline rush and exhilaration of swimming in open water. To me this is why I learnt to swim – why would you stay in a pool?

Mumand I

Heather and her mother at Portstewart

I currently live in the Midlands of England, more than 100 miles from the coast. This sets its own challenges for sea swim training! I love to swim wherever and whenever I can, but nowhere compares to the thrill of the wild Atlantic Ocean off the north coast of Ireland. 

I am fundraising for the new Portstewart Outdoor Recreation Fund (administered by Outdoor Recreation NI) and for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI). 

From a tiny age I used to sit on the shore twiddling the sand between my toes, looking out to the ocean, desperate to swim to the other land I could see but was obviously never allowed to. With the help of my wonderful family and friends, I hope to give it the best shot I can. I hope to inspire my children to follow their dreams too, and others who may hear my story, just like I did when reading about Mercedes.

Follow Heather’s journey

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.