On 1st August 2020, I will attempt to swim the 21 miles across the English Channel in aid of Acorns Children’s Hospice. Acorns provides babies, children and young people aged 0 – 18 years who have life limiting or life threatening conditions and associated complex needs with a network of specialist palliative nursing care and support.
In May 2018, at the age of 30, I decided to hang up my boots after playing 12 years of professional rugby. I loved those years; the camaraderie, the competition, the sharing of the highs and lows and the emotional roller coasters that are part and parcel of sport with close teammates. I had finally joined what many retired sportsmen and women refer to as the ‘real world.’ During my rugby career, I was able to recognise what it was that I truly valued about the game and once I retired, I set about filling that void. I’ve seen several cases where sportsmen and women struggle to adjust to life outside their sport and they almost feel lost as they’re unable to find jobs, hobbies or interests which replicate the qualities they loved in their previous career.
I took part in a sprint triathlon last year and part of my training involved swimming regularly at Aztec Adventure in Worcestershire. I quickly got the bug for open water swimming and decided I needed to set myself a challenge, a serious one. I returned home one evening and said to Tash (my wife), “I’m going to swim The English Channel.” Once I’d said it, that was it. I then went about finding a way to do it. I increased my training volume, I did plenty of research, I took opportunities to get into open water and the sea when possible and I asked lots of questions. During my rugby career, I was fortunate to play against some of the best players in the world which certainly took me out of my comfort zone, but in doing so presented opportunities to grow as an individual within a team environment. After retiring, I wanted to take myself out of that comfort zone again. The magnitude of this challenge will do just that and it has given my training a great deal of purpose and helped focus the mind.
This summer I completed several marathon (over 10km) swims; The Great North Swim at Lake Windermere, Dock to Dock at London’s Royal Victoria Docks, The Thames Marathon from Henley-on-Thames to Marlow, Coniston One Way and finally the longest of them all, Windermere One Way which was just shy of 18km. Each swim was unique and presented its own challenges, be it distance, water temperature, weather conditions etc, and I found I learned a great deal from each swim. The English Channel however is seen as the pinnacle in endurance swimming and holds a special allure for long distance swimmers who travel from all over the world to take on the 21 mile stretch of water from England to France.
Why Acorns Hospice?
During my time at Worcester Warriors we worked closely with Acorns and we regularly visited the children to help out members of staff and volunteers where possible. I remember returning home and reflecting on my first visit and thinking that Acorns is an incredibly special place. Given the seriousness of the children's illnesses, everyone seemed very positive and there were always smiles on faces. Tash and I are extremely fortunate to have two healthy children, Imogen and Ottilie, and we’ve certainly realised that having children puts many things into perspective. If you’re able to make a donation to this wonderful organisation then please do, it would mean a huge amount to all of those involved.