Yes, you read that right. I have signed up to swim the English Channel as a solo in 2023.
I’ll just type that again while I catch my breath. I have signed up to swim the English Channel as a solo in 2023. “What on earth!?” I hear you cry. “Do you know how far it is?!” 21 miles, on a good crossing. “Do you know how your stoma bag will stay on during the swim?!” Well, I don’t think anyone with a stoma has swum it before so....no. “Do you know that it is called the Everest of endurance swims?” Yes, yes I do.
How the hell did this latest madcap venture come about then? For the last few months I have been chatting with a lovely girl called Kayleigh Adams, who found me through social media, and is a fellow mum with a colostomy after a traumatic child birth. Kayleigh suffered horrific injuries during the birth of her first child three years ago, and was fitted with a stoma 8 weeks ago, finding out only this week that it will be permanent. I know exactly how overwhelming this feels, a life changing moment and one which takes time to get your head round. She is only 24, a student midwife and the mother of two young children, and sadly Kayleigh is facing further surgery to fix her injuries. Kayleigh was a competitive swimmer in her youth (mind, she still seems like a youth to me at 41!) and has swum the Channel a couple of times in a relay. Having only had her stoma for 8 weeks, she has not yet been swimming with it, and of course COVID closures have an affect on access to swimming pools, but she was encouraged by my social media posts showing that a stoma needn't mean the end of her swimming days.
A couple of weeks ago Kayleigh sent me a message asking “Have you ever thought about swimming the Channel?”. Little light came on. “Yeah I’ve always wanted to but...”....I thought for a few more minutes before replying “why don’t we do it together?!”. And it went from there...before I knew it Kayleigh had been in touch with Stuart Gleeson of Sea Leopard, and we had our name on the list for bookings to open for the 2023 season on 1st March next year. I contacted Nicola Napier, my lovely friend at Hollister Incorporated and Dansac, who I have met in the last few months. She was delighted to offer the full support of both companies for the challenge.
A few days later, the realisation dawned that Kayleigh would require further reconstructive surgery and the reality is that a Channel swim is not a realistic possibility at this stage of her treatment. It is a cruel but timely reminder that birth trauma injuries, and their affects, do not end on the day of the birth, or after a few months, but can still be an issue many years down the line. I know that Kayleigh will one day be in a great place just like I am, but for now it is vital that she concentrate on her own recovery. That said, she is still very much on the team - team Ostomy MerMums are go! Kayleigh is going to come on training swims when she can, and is going to be crew on the boat, a vital team member, together with her mum, Claire Wookey. Her mum also wants to raise awareness of birth trauma injuries, and this points to the fact that birth trauma affects many more people than just the mother - I know my own mother lost a lot of weight and was (still is) deeply distressed by my traumatic experience. I’ll always be her baby after all!
After this things moved quickly. I engaged the services of a brilliant local Open Water Swimming coach, John Lester, as I have a back ground of fast paced triathlon - I need to become an endurance swimmer instead. My stroke will be critical. I have a tricep/bicep injury which requires fixing, so I have started physio back up again with Ana Yanis, to regain my strength and give me the best start to begin training to a plan soon. Finally, I have enlisted the support of Pip August as my nutritionist, something which again is vital to a successful Channel swim. I never follow a nutritional plan, I get injured and I get anxious. With these three people on my team I am hoping (no, I WILL) avoid these issues. It’s all about the preparation.
I have no idea how my stoma will behave on a long swim. I have no idea how the bag adhesive will work after 10 plus hours. All I know is that I am willing to get out there and give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Once again, I will be fundraising and the 3 chosen charities are the Birth Trauma Association, Colostomy UK and Jacobs Well. The latter provides people in developing countries with ostomy supplies (amongst other things), because for example, children in the Phillipines have been known to use plastic bags, while a teenage boy has been spotted with a tin can strapped to his stomach. I am absolutely determined to help provide better supplies to those who do not have access to them, so that they can fulfil their dreams like me.