Marathon swimmer’s Oceans 7 challenge

By Mark Pritchett in Local People

TIGER sharks 7ft long, 10mph ocean currents, blistering sun, freezing waters, world firsts – Milverton swimmer-adventurer Beth French is facing it all.

Half way through her record-setting project to swim all Oceans 7 channels in a single year, she has reached the tipping point. Once she completes the Straits of Gibraltar in May, she will be in new territory with every further swim a new record.

Oceans 7 is the swimming equivalent of mountaineering’s seven summits – seven of the toughest swims on the planet, designed to test every aspect of a swimmer. Only six people have completed the list in their lifetime and Beth French is set to do them all in a single year.

Beth, who trains at Wellington Sports Centre, has already overcome incredible odds – swimming her first 21-mile channel in October with a tummy bug. Then her second channel – the 28-mile Molokai channel, known locally in Hawaii as the Channel of Bones (Kaiwi) – she faced down a curious 7ft tiger shark in the middle of the night. In completing this gruelling channel, she became the first woman in history to swim it twice.

Her most recent swim, 16 miles across the turbulent Cook Strait from the South to North island of New Zealand, saw her face her first ever ‘Did Not Finish’ when she was within sight of the landing beach, only to be swept back out to sea by strong currents. The first attempt was in barely 15 degrees water, with hypothermia a real risk.

Just ten days later, she took the plunge and put her body to the utmost test – had she recovered enough to make it this time? Remarkably, she made the swim in a smooth 9 hours 11 minutes, despite the fatigue and mental strain of very little rest.

This is all remarkable – but given that Beth was in a wheelchair as a teenager with no guarantee of recovery from the debilitating syndrome ME, it is an astonishing accomplishment. She has found a way to live symptom-free and relishes the challenge of what would appear to many impossible – to master the seven toughest swims on the planet in a single year.

She said: “My childhood was overshadowed by ME. I contracted glandular fever at the age of ten and never fully recovered. My adolescence was marred by periods of immune dysfunction and exhaustion until I found myself in a wheelchair. It took hard work to regain my mobility – not only physical but also mental strength and determination.

“It has taken me a long time to regain trust in my body and to learn how to live with ME. Today I live symptom-free but I know that it is always there and it has played a significant part in the decisions I have made and the way I have lived my life today. ME does not define me but it will always be a part of me.

“In the 20 years since the wheelchair I have travelled extensively, studied and lived abroad. I learnt Lomi Lomi massage in Hawaii and entered a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, where I studied meditation, a skill which has proved invaluable in endurance swimming.

“Now I am settled in Somerset where I train, work as an open water swim coach and guide, and as a masseuse – practising the Lomi Lomi massage I learnt in Hawaii.

“Today I am mother to a wonderful eight year old son, Dylan. He was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and ASD and as a result he is unable to attend mainstream school, so I home school him.

“My desire to complete this challenge comes largely from Dylan. I want to demonstrate to him that whatever challenges present themselves in life, with enough hard work and dedication you can overcome them and achieve your goals.”

To celebrate the mark of hitting new territory, and to raise vital funds to complete her quest, Beth and her team are holding a gala dinner at Somerset County Cricket Club on Saturday, June 3, and invite WWN readers to attend and join the adventure. A charity raffle will be held for Action for ME and a silent auction with superb prizes to bid for. Live music and a chance to hear first hand what it takes to brave the wildest waters promise to make this a night to remember. To find out more and obtain tickets visit www.bethfrench.co.uk/events

THE OCEANS 7

North Channel – Ireland to Scotland

W/C September 6 2016

Distance approx 18 miles

Catalina Channel – California

October 12 2016

Distance approx 21 miles

Molokai Channel (kaiwi) – Hawaii

Late November 2016

Distance approx 28 miles

Cook Straits – New Zealand

March-April 2017

Distance approx 21 miles

Straits of Gibraltar - Spain to Morocco

Late May 2017

Tsugaru Channel – Japan

Late June 2017

Distance approx 18 miles

English Channel-England to France

W/c August 21 2017

Distance approx 22 miles

Add Comment

Add Your Comment

You don't need an account to leave a comment

By posting your comment you agree to our T & C