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Bingham: Toot Hill School learning assistant completes English Channel relay swim for The Hub and Raise Your Hands charity

A classroom learning assistant has completed one of the toughest challenges in Europe.

Helen Timmins, who works at Toot Hill School, Bingham, swam the English Channel as part of the Channel Belles relay team that completed the challenge in under 15 hours.

The 14 swimmers — aged 30 to 60 — were split into three teams for the 21-mile journey between Dover and France.

A team photo featuring Helen (middle). (48740534)
A team photo featuring Helen (middle). (48740534)

Helen raised money for The Hub at Toot Hill, which supports students’ mental health and well-being, and the Raise Your Hands charity that helps small charities working with young people.

The swim was brought forward when an earlier slot became available and because bad weather was forecast later in the week.

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.

Helen during a night swim. (48740520)
Helen during a night swim. (48740520)

“At 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.”

Helen said the first swim was exhilarating but also surreal.

Helen in the water during sunrise. (48740528)
Helen in the water during sunrise. (48740528)

“I still couldn’t believe that just eight hours earlier I was packing a bag and driving to Dover,” she said.

“After the hour was up, the next swimmer got in to take over and it was my turn to get back on the boat.

“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,” Helen said.

A MAP showing the route the team completed. (48740538)
A MAP showing the route the team completed. (48740538)

“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.”

They finally finished the challenge at 3.30pm.

“Then the tide turned and swimmer number three started to move towards land.

“We were absolutely thrilled, we had done it,” Helen said.

“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.”

Helen’s journey in the water will continue later this month when she takes on an end-to-end challenge in Lake Ullswater.

To support Helen, go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/toothillhub.

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