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Deeping St James woman to take on tough swimming challenge

Clare Wookey
Clare Wookey

Despite having only taken up swimming seriously while in her forties, a woman is part of a relay team tackling one of the toughest open water swimming challenges in the world.

Clare Wookey, 47, of Deeping St James and four friends have taken on the Oceans Sevens challenge, which will see them complete marathon channel swims across the world.

They will have to deal with strong currents, cold water, the threat of sharks and painful stings from jellyfish.

But Clare said the team, which has already completed a record two-way crossing of the North Channel, would have it no other way.

“The North Channel was mentally tough,” she said.

“We swim in bathing costumes and in addition to the cold water - temperatures ranged from 11C to 14C - we were stung by jellyfish too.

“You then get out of the water and it takes about three hours to stop shivering and get warm.

“The next thing you have to start preparing yourself to go back into the water for another hour.

“It’s not easy but you just have to ignore it all and push on through.”

Swimming in relays of an hour each, the team completed the 42 mile two-way crossing in 28 hours, 25 minutes, a Guinness World Record.

“It was an incredible feeling,” said Clare, who works for the Peterborough Regional College.

“I only took up swimming seriously after suffering kidney failure in 2010.”

Wanting to raise money for the renal unit that treated her, she decided to enter a triathlon.

“I hadn’t done much swimming before that so I needed to learn to swim better.”

After successfully completing three triathlons, Clare discovered she had a love for open water swimming.

“It’s so much better than swimming in a chlorinated box,” she said.

Clare met the rest of the team at Whisby Lake near Lincoln thanks to their shared enjoyment of “winter swimming”.

“We discovered we all enjoyed cold water swimming,” she said.

“There is something about it that makes you feel alive.”

She said the “boss” of the group, Caroline Sims from Newark, had proposed they take on the Oceans Seven challenge, which will take them to Hawaii, New Zealand, the US and Japan.

The challenge includes swims in:

• The North Channel (21 miles);

• Cook Strait (16 miles);

• Molokai Channel (26 miles);

• English Channel (21 miles);

• Catalina Channel (21 miles);

• Tsugaru Strait (15 miles); and

• Strait of Gibraltar (20 miles).

To add to the difficulty, the team is doing each swim both ways, effectively doubling the distance.

The Catalina Channel, which lies off the coast of Los Angeles, is next on their list when they tackle it in August.

“We hope to complete all seven swims in the next six to seven years,” said Clare.

“It costs a lot of money - the Catalina Channel will set us each back about £10,000.”

She said the biggest cost was hiring a boat for the swim.

The team plans on leaving the English Channel to last so they can share the experience with friends and family.

“I have never considered myself an athlete and don’t think I even look like an athlete,” said Clare.

“But for me, a lot of this is showing other women that if you put your mind to it, you’re capable of doing anything.”


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