Stacey Egan pictured after she reached France and her team were on the way back to the UK.

Local woman in English Channel relay charity swim

Midlands woman Stacey Egan recently swam the English Channel in a relay team of six people for Swim Tayka, an English charity that teaches children in developing countries how to swim.

The swimming instructor who works in the Athlone Regional Sports Centre travelled to Dover, England, on Thursday, July 28, leaving her native Ferbane with her mother and twin sister.

They flew from Dublin Airport to London City Airport before getting the high-speed train to Dover. Stacey and five other swimmers who formed the relay team 'SwimPeru' took it in turns of one-hour slots to complete the incredible challenge.

The weather-dependent swim had been expected to take place some time between Friday, July 29 and Wednesday, August 3. Stacey said: "We all expected to get the call to go on the Friday. However, that didn’t happen.

The team was using the services of Eddie Spelling, who has been escorting Channel Swimmers for over 10 years on his boat.

Stacey said: “Eddie texted our Team Captain on Thursday, letting us know that we were on standby for Monday. We met as a team on Friday and went for a team swim in Swimmers Beach and discussed all things swimming.”

An English Channel crossing is almost all-weather dependent and wind is the main factor. If the wind speed is Force 2-3 (approx. 10mph) the boat will bring a solo swimmer. If the wind speed is Force 3-4/5 (approx. 12-24mph) a relay team can be brought. No-one swims in a Force 6 (approx. 25 mph).

Stacey admits the entire exercise looked to be in doubt at one point.

“There was a definite thought that we were not actually going to get to attempt a crossing at all. We kept training, doing short 30-minute swims and bonding as a team,” Stacey said.

“On Tuesday, August 2, Eddie rang and said he was thinking of taking another relay team instead of us, our Team Captain spoke up and said, 'We’ve been waiting here for six days, we are ready to go, we want to go.' A very tense half an hour later, he texted and said, 'meet at 2pm to catch the boat.'”

Stacey continued: “I woke up Wednesday morning and the excitement was overwhelming - my Mum told me to calm down several times! We met at the marina at 1.30pm and gathered ourselves. We met our pilot Eddie, and his crew members Mike and Rob.

“Eddie said 'the strongest swimmer goes first', at this stage we knew that we were bordering a Force 6 wind speed. We had already decided our order and I was in 4th position. However, after Eddie said this, we decided as a team to change the order and I was now going to be in first position and start our swim from England to France.”

Commenting on the experience as she readied herself for the intensive swim, Stacey said: “I closed my eyes and stood still for a moment, I will never forget that feeling, I was about to swim from England to France. I took a few steps into the water and then dived in; the swim had begun.”

According to the Offaly woman, the first hour was the toughest swim she had ever done. “I swallowed a lot of water, was being pulled and dragged by the waves and sometimes didn’t get a breath. There were times when I couldn’t see the boat beside me because the waves were so high. I thought to myself, I’ve waited long enough for this, I am going to give it everything.”

After a few hours, it was Stacey's turn to spot swimmer number 5, Jhana. To spot someone, means to sit and watch them for their hour swim for safety reasons, while shouting words of encouragement.

After this Stacey had another late swim around 9pm. “It was approaching darkness very soon. I jumped in and started swimming, I had a flashing green light on the back of my goggles, for safety reasons and Mike assured me, 'you have to wear this, as we do lose people.'”

Stacey said: “When I got out they told me that there was a tanker, bigger than a cargo ship, only half a mile away from me and he did not want to divert his course, however Eddie negotiated with him, and he eventually adjusted his course. During this swim I had swam into the separation zone, this is the zone between the English shipping lane and the French shipping lane. It is full of jellyfish and seaweed. I didn’t know I was swimming in the separation zone until I got out, but I did see small jellyfish under the water.”

Another five hours passed, and it was the young local swimmer's turn to go again. It was 3am and still pitch dark.

“I jumped in again and just swam, I thought of so many people during this swim, everyone who supported me, donated to the charity, and helped me. I especially thought of my dad, he would have loved to think that I would try something as crazy as this. I was given the five-minute warning and I acknowledged it. I knew this was going to be the last time I was in, so I gave it everything and sprinted for those last five minutes. I climbed back on the boat, and they told me that they had caught a glimpse of France, it was becoming very real, we were almost there.

Stacey concluded: “Another hour passed and Ali was getting ready to swim, we all knew she would reach France. She jumped in and started swimming. After 20 minutes, France was clearly visible and Mike shouted to Ali, ‘You’re with me now, come on’, and we all watched her swim to France. There was a lot of hugs, tears, and a feeling of sheer amazement. We had done it; we swam from England to France. We began the journey back to England; it took just under three hours for Eddie to drive us back.”

The English Channel swim is seen as the Mount Everest of all swims, as more people have climbed Mount Everest than have swum the English Channel. A year of training including long hours in the pool, open water swims at Coosan, and weekly gym sessions under the guidance of swim coach David Warby had Stacey well-prepared.

Almost €2,000 has been raised by the swim for SwimTayka who provide free swimming lessons and environmental education to underprivileged children from countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

Stacey swam competitively for many years, until her late teens at national level, and made the Connacht squad. She has also worked as a swimming instructor in the Athlone Regional Sports Centre for the past six years.

Stacey is the daughter of Mary Egan from Ballinasloe and the late John Egan from Ferbane. She also recently completed an Arts degree in Irish and Music from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.