A SWIMMER from Bovey Tracey has made it into this week’s current affairs by swimming both the English Channel and Loch Lomond, all while championing WaterAid.
Andrea Ayres, 51, is an Operations Manager for the Environment Agency. Since she was a child, she has pursued a life of all things aquatic.
‘My mum and dad took me swimming when I was a baby and they’ve been trying to get me out of pools ever since,’ said Andrea.
After a stint as a scuba diving instructor, Andrea started long-distance swimming after she had children. Andrea started small, with challenges such as the one-mile loop around Burgh Island.
‘It just got dafter from there! Every time it was longer and longer. ’
It was a combination of reasons that kept Andrea coming back for more. She said: ‘The beauty of it is really attractive to me, I love being in the sea. The swimming community, having a strong supportive group of people really pulls you in. But it’s also the exercise, the personal challenge and the mindfulness I get from it.’
Although Andrea had done a relay across the Channel several years ago, doing the challenge solo was a different story. Around 300 people attempt to swim the crossing each year but less than one in five complete it. Fewer people have swum the Channel than have successfully climbed Mount Everest.
However, the first challenge is actually getting in the water. Andrea trained for over three years, swimming in pools in the winter and ramping herself up to progressively harder swims in the warmer months.
Swimming across Torbay from Brixham to Meadfoot became one of her favourites. When a slot became available, Andrea had to be ready.
She said: ‘The channel is really competitive to get a slot these days, you have to book years in advance.
And not only do you have to wait your turn, but you’ve also got to have the right tide and the right weather. They call it the Dover Coaster because of how long you wait around in Dover. It’s a bit of a test of resilience even before you start.’
As summer wore on Andrea became conscious that she may not get to attempt the crossing this year.
She decided to have a go at Loch Lomond instead. Completing 22 miles in 15 hours and 43 minutes overnight was hardly a step down, and Andrea joined a group of just 75 other people who had done it.
Andrea said: ‘I didn’t have any crew for a support boat, so I got my husband and son to come up and on a fishing boat with an outboard and went on this mad family adventure!’
On Sunday, September 10, a perfect weather window opened up, and Andrea went for it.
Andrea said: ‘I had a really small neep tide and very good water so my track is pretty flat and I pretty much swam in a straight line. The toughest bit is when you’re nearing France because there’s a big tidal push. It’s where a lot of people don’t make it because you’ve been swimming for 11-12 hours and then you’ve got to sprint for an hour.’
Andrea finished the Channel in 13 hours and 18 minutes. She said: ‘It was slightly unceremonious when I got there because I had to climb over these boulders to make it to dry land.
‘It was just the most amazing feeling, I’d waited such a long time and the conditions were so lovely. I just couldn’t quite believe I’d done it.’
While most swimmers go for energy gels, Andrea’s fuel of choice was slightly more regional. ‘I’m a bit usual because I can’t stomach those kind of things. I’m more of a Devon girl, I swim with tea and cake, fruit sugar, hot water and honey, that sort of thing.’
Fundraising throughout the challenge, Andrea chose to support WaterAid and has currently raised over £1,500 for WaterAid UK.’