Twickenham NHS nurse swims English Channel solo

As if the past few months have not been challenging enough for NHS nurse Donna Nicholas, the 53-year-old has gone to new extremes by swimming the entire length of the English Channel solo.


On August 15, Donna, from Twickenham, battled freezing temperatures to complete the 21-mile swim in 13 hours 23 minutes.

Swimming the Channel is no easy feat – it usually requires months of training and careful preparation with a pilot.

When Donna booked her slot to swim 18 months ago, she could not have anticipated that with only a few months to go she would be working on the coronavirus wards with her training suspended.

But despite setbacks, Donna said nothing could stop her from achieving her dream.

While pools were closed she took up running, clocking up to 35 kilometres a week to keep her physical and mental health strong.

She said that her NHS colleagues, who also worked 12-and-a-half-hour hospital shifts, were shocked by her intense training.

“It gave staff something to talk about, to get through our gruelling shifts, our sadness, and our fear. I am sure they thought I was mad, but in a fun way.”

Donna, who is originally from Perth, Western Australia, has swum all her life, so as soon as she got the chance to get back in the water she did, resuming training with the Channel Swimming Association.

And just before her 53rd birthday, she was given the all clear by her trainer to disembark from Dover.

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

“Swimming the Channel is 80% mental, so not only your fitness but the ability to dig deep. I just kept thinking I can do this and kept going.”

“When I reached the other side, I was full of energy, running on a high. It was everything I ever dreamed of and more. It proves that if you really want something, you will fight hard enough to get it.”

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

But Donna’s landing on French soil was not the big arrival she had expected.

At 4:30am the British Government put new quarantine rules in place, that meant anyone returning to the UK from France would have to self-isolate for 14 days.

Donna was still allowed to step onto the beach, but she could not accept the hugs and wine that French beachgoers typically welcome Channel swimmers with.

When she reached the finish line however, there was a special guest waiting for her.

Steve Stievenart, the first French man to swim from Dover to France and back again, was there to congratulate her before it was time to hop back on the boat, to go back to England.

It may not have been the swim she planned, but Donna said she was satisfied with the outcome.

“I was really lucky, I was happy on my swim, I had confidence in my pilot, and I only got away with a few jelly stings!”


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