Hillingdon nurse swims English Channel in memory of sister

It took more than a pandemic to put Donna Nicholas off her stroke when she recently completed her dream of swimming the English Channel.

“I smiled all the way,” says the 53 year-old sexual health nurse based at Hillingdon Hospital whose original crossing was postponed when Covid-19 reached our shores.

National lockdown threatened months of cold water preparation including gruelling weekly swims around Dover Harbour – the favoured training ground of the Channel Swimming Association.

“It was frustrating but I kept my fitness by pounding the roads,” said Donna who was seconded to look after Covid-19 patients.

“It was a scary time but we all came together and I met some wonderful people. It’s important to have interests outside of work though and I always had the swim on my mind. I guess you get a bit obsessed.

“The thought of open water was certainly a refreshing thought when you are spending the best part of 12 hours in PPE. It was something to look forward to.”

Donna was able to resume swimming in the summer squeezing in several weeks of training including a six hour trial before getting the nod

“It all happened very quickly but swimming the channel is a mental as much as a  physical challenge. You have to dig deep when you are in the water that long.”

Rules dictate that a swimmer is not allowed to touch the support boat which provides refreshments via a hand line.

Donna would float on her back once an hour to take on board a carbohydrate drink and a delicious concoction of black tea and flat coke.

She swam with the memory of her deceased sister for company whose name she wrote on her arm for inspiration.

“I was still full of energy when I reached the other side although it was misty so I couldn’t see the shoreline until the last minute.”

Donna completed the 21 mile course in 13 hours and 23 minutes three days after her birthday proving you are never too old to show the young ‘uns how it’s done.

She was greeted on the beach by Steve Stievenart, the first Frenchman to swim from Dover to France and back again.

“I was over the moon although quarantine restrictions in France meant I had to hop back on a boat back to England almost immediately. It really was a dream come true.”

So, what’s next for the Aussie who took to cold water and the odd jellyfish sting like a duck out of water?

“I’d like to complete the ‘Triple Crown’ which is the English Channel, the Catalina Channel between Catalina Island and the California mainland, and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, a 48.5 km circumnavigation of Manhatten Island, New York City.”