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Winchester girls raise over £10k through English Channel swim

A group of six Winchester school girls have raised an incredible £10,000 for Solent Mind after achieving a relay crossing of the English Channel between Dover and Calais last Friday night.

The girls, aged between 13 and 15, set off from Samphire Beach, Dover on Friday night and touched land near Cap Gris Nez in France just before 10am on Saturday morning – achieving one of the fastest ever recorded swims by a team of junior girls with a time of 10 hours, 18 minutes.

The money raised will go direct to helping people in Hampshire with mental health problems, a cause close to the team’s hearts. Swimmer Darcey said: “I think Solent Mind is so important for supporting mental health, especially in young people.

“After the last 18 months with the pandemic, the money will help lots of young people to improve their mental health. For us, being part of a team means exercising outdoors and working together to overcome the challenges we have had to face and this has definitely helped us with our own mental health.”

CEO Kevin Gardner from Solent Mind said: “Not only have the girls raised funds for mental health services but they have demonstrated there is so much we can all do to support and look after our own mental health. 

"Taking part in sport, getting out in the fresh outdoors, achieving a goal and being part of a team – these girls are not only great swimmers, they’re accomplished ambassadors for good mental health.”

The girls, who met whilst pool swimming with Winchester City Penguins Swimming Club, initially attended an open water taster session, at Andark Lake near Southampton, organised by open water veteran swimmers, channel soloists and qualified open water coaches, Kate Steels and Rory Fitzgerald.

The six girls, Emily, Maddie, Darcy, Cat, Eva and Alice showed a particular interest in cold water swimming, first in the lake and then in rivers and the sea nearby. Fortunately, open water swimming was less affected than indoor training during the pandemic and the team was able to build its confidence and fitness over an 18-month period.

The swim from England to France is 21 miles and is one of the worlds’ busiest shipping lanes. Each of the team had to swim in strict rotation for one hour in water just over 15C!

Rory Fitzgerald commented, “The girls had an immediate affinity for open water swimming. Very early on, Kate and I knew that they would be capable of taking on the challenge of a Channel Crossing. They showed incredible courage and determination, swimming without wetsuits, through the night, dealing with jellyfish, sea sickness and exhaustion.”

Kate Steels added, “It was important to us all to raise money for a charity alongside this Channel Swim and we chose Solent Mind. The positive physical and mental health benefits of swimming and especially swimming in the outdoors, have been enjoyed by us all – particularly during the past year. Never has there been a time when our young people were under so much pressure or needed our compassion and support more.

“We are extremely proud of Team Sea 6. They worked so hard and overcame their individual fears for the team. Their swim was truly phenomenal. Please do donate if you can – it is for a fantastic cause. Each and every donation makes a real difference. Thank you.”

Solent Mind CEO Kevin Gardner added: “Thank you and well done to all of these girls on such an incredible feat. And also thank you to their coaches, families, supporters and everyone who contributed towards the fundraising.

“There’s never been a more important time for charity fundraising and in particular for mental health because of the challenges as a result of the pandemic.

“Solent Mind supports some very vulnerable people across the region, we provide services to help people develop techniques and strategies to mange their own mental health. This money will go directly towards our services to help people with mental health challenges.”

Please donate if you can:

www.justgiving.com/fundraising/winchestercitychannelswim

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