Niamh Lewis reports on a Windermere relay beset by challenges, including a broken down support boat
By late July, the Windermere end-to-end season for solo crossings is in full flow, usually when the Cumbrian weather is at its warmest and water temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius.
This year, with more challenging colder conditions, 20 swimmers, including coach Ceri Smith of The Aquatic Body, took to the water with the task of a non-stop end-to-end relay, aiming to break the record of 13 lengths of the lake.
Unfortunately, cold water wasn’t the only challenge that the swimmers had to face. On day one, the support boat broke down with the on-water safety crew and official observers on board. With no safety support and no witnesses to ratify the world record attempt, the whole swim was in jeopardy.
A swim of uncertainty
Luiza Woods was 2km into leg two when she learnt that the boat had broken down. She continued with only her paddler for support, unsure whether the remaining legs could go ahead.
While Luiza swam, Ceri put out an SOS and thanks to local support the swim was able to continue safely. Luiza had bought the team enough time to pull together an emergency safety crew, a new boat and multiple kayakers for the following days.
“The adrenaline just pushed me to keep going,” says Luiza. “I knew I was doing it for me but then the swim was back on and I was doing it for a reason… I had a gut feeling that something would pull through.”
Into the night
The next swimmer was Dave Makin, the first to take a night swim leg. Dave returned to swimming following his diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2007 to help manage the illness and “so my daughters could see that things don’t have to stop you,” he says. “Swimming is the only time I feel normal.”
Dave and Ceri have done several Lake District challenges together, but this time it was different. “All the other swims I’ve done I’ve gone down, got in, done it and it’s over. Previously, if I didn’t make it, I was letting myself down but this time you’re letting 19 other people down… the extra pressure involved has been massive.”
The mutual spirit and bond in keeping the challenge alive was what carried all 20 swimmers through the chaotic five days.
“I think we all decided it was an epic adventure,” Ceri says. “It turned into something that I don’t think any of us will forget.”
Letting it sink in
After completing the challenge, Ceri and the team struggled to comprehend what they achieved.
“It was hell on earth for about 24 hours but then it all started to come together and the jigsaw started to form a picture that said we might actually get to finish this,” Ceri says.
“It was a team effort without a doubt. We’ve probably got the best outcome that we could ever have hoped for out of an event, out of circumstances that never should have happened.”
Achieving their goal
The challenge spanned five days and saw 15 crossings of England’s longest lake at 10.5 miles, with some swimmers journeying in pairs. Unofficially, Team Windermere surpassed the relay record and raised nearly £20,000 for Children With Cancer, a charity that helped Ceri become the first to survive a severe and rare form of cancer when she was a child.
“We couldn’t get it ratified because our support team were unable to stay after the first day, and they were the witnesses for our record,” says Ceri.
“But we are so elated that we’ve done it; we know we’ve done it and with the amount of money that we have raised, everyone is kind of past caring. [The record] didn’t become the goal in the end, the goal was about the money and the whole team achieving what they did and that mattered a lot more.”
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