A classroom learning assistant from a Bingham secondary school has just returned from one of the most physically enduring challenges in Europe.
Helen Timmins from Toot Hill School – part of the Nova Education Trust – swam the English Channel this month as part of the Channel Belles relay team, who completed this amazing challenge in just under 15 hours.
The 14 swimmers – aged between 30 and 60 – were split into three teams for their 21-mile journey between Dover and France. Helen undertook the swim to raise money for two important charities – The Hub at Toot Hill and the Raise Your Hands charity.
The Hub supports mental health and well-being and is a vital and highly-valued facility at the school. Approximately 120 students access services through The Hub, which include counsellor sessions, school nurse appointments, mentoring and a drop-in service.
The swim was brought forward when an earlier slot became available and with bad weather forecast later in the week, the decision was made to take the plunge early.
Helen said: “With just 12 hours notice, I set about madly packing and preparing. After a four-hour drive and on only six hours sleep the night before, I arrived in Dover at 11pm.
“I boarded the boat with my four team-mates shortly after and we tried to get our heads around the fact that this was it, we were really doing it.
“At approximately 12.25am the boat stopped. I put in my ear plugs, pulled down my goggles and in the pitch black – with just a light shining towards the beach – I set off on my swim to the beach to start our attempt.
“Once I had negotiated the pebbles and got myself upright on Dover beach, the bat claxon sounded. I launched myself back into the water to begin the first leg of our channel crossing.
“That first swim was exhilarating and surreal. I still couldn’t believe that just eight hours earlier I was packing a bag and driving to Dover. After the hour was up, the next swimmer got in to take over and it was my turn to get back on the boat.
A fifth swimmer on the team became unwell on the journey over the Channel. Consumed by sea sickness and unable to keep anything down, she made the tough decision to pull-out of the swim before her turn started.
Helen continued: “It was a brave and utterly selfless decision to withdraw, so that the four of us could have the best chance of completing our challenge.
“We were all devastated for her but determined to push on and so my turn to swim again came around much quicker than expected. My second swim at 4.35am was beautiful as I saw the sun rise to my left and the faces of my team-mates on the boat to my right.
“During my second and third swims I saw jellyfish floating beneath me, seaweed tapped me on the head as it drifted by and a shoal of flying fish kept my team-mates entertained. The huge tankers and ferries populated the horizon.
“In my fourth swim I gave it my all. I could see the French coastline and it seemed so close but, unbeknown to me, we were fighting the tide and despite my very best efforts I did not move as far as I had hoped.
“Then the tide turned and swimmer number three started to move towards land. At 3.30pm, she stepped out of the water and onto the steps at Wissant. We were absolutely thrilled, we had done it.
“Two and a half hours later we were back in Dover and greeted by our team-mates. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience and welcome home – it was amazing.”
You’d think after this Helen might put her feet up for a while, but that’s certainly not the case as she’s already preparing for her next challenge.
“I am training to swim Lake Ullswater end to end in July,” added Helen. “It’s seven miles non-stop, so that will be about five hours of swimming.”
There’s still time to sponsor Helen at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/toothillhub.