High Peak teens complete English Channel relay swim raising £21,000 for disability charity Mencap

Two Buxton teenagers were among a team of school students who swam the English Channel last week, raising thousands of pounds for a national learning disability charity.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 10:24 am
Updated Monday, 20th September 2021, 10:40 am

Katie-Ann Smith and Charlie Barnes, both 15, completed the feat in a relay of five students and one headteacher from Beech Hall School in Macclesfield on Sunday, September 12.

After a whole year of cold water training in an effort to raise £25,000 for Mencap, the weather and current conditions miraculously aligned to allow their crossing at the first attempt.

Charlie said: “It felt amazing when we landed in France as it was a challenge to swim against the strong French current. Mentally, it felt like a dream come true to achieve this feat with a fantastic team. We smashed it.”

Charlie Barnes, third left, and Katie-Ann Smith, centre, with teammates and coaches.

Katie-Ann swam legs of the journey, including the first and last. She entered the pitch black water near Dover at around 3am, and emerged close to the French town of Wissant just under 15 hours later.

She said: “Each leg lasts an hour but the distance depends on the current at the time of each swim. It was hard going and the current made things difficult, but it all went according to plan and afterwards it felt so rewarding.

“I just made up different scenarios in my head to keep me going. The hardest part was the last leg, swimming against the current, but the best part was climbing up the steps on the French coast and people clapping for me.”

Charlie, who swam two legs of roughly 1.5 miles each, said: “When it was dark it looked rough from the boat but when it was sunny it was good to have the sun on my back. The weather was perfect and the water was only a little bit choppy.

Recuperating in the boat between legs.

“I really had to dig deep, mentally and physically, during the 11th leg. I was thinking about orca whales as someone mentioned them before I jumped in. My teammates and coaches kept me motivated, cheering me on.”

He added: “This whole experience has made me physically and mentally stronger. I have learned to adapt.”

The group celebrated with their families over burgers and chips back in Folkestone before a more leisurely swim in the sea the next morning.

With another team of Beech Hall students completing the crossing a few days later, their combined fundraising total stands at around £21,600 so far.

Charlie in the water.

The Mencap Marvels initiative was started by the students’ coach, Nikki Pope, who completed her first 18-hour solo crossing in 2019 to thank the charity for supporting her nephew Zach, who lives with autism, and around 1.4million other people in the UK with learning disabilities.

Charlie said: “I hope the money we have raised will help Mencap continue to achieve their goal in supporting people with physical and mental disabilities and their families.”

To add to their fundraising total, go to https://bit.ly/3hFdfWx.

A third High Peak student, Whaley Bridge resident Reece Bromley, is in training to be part of a school team who will attempt a Channel crossing in summer 2022.

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