Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Chilly dip for Christmas

Chilly dip for Christmas

SIXTY-THREE swimmers took the plunge at the traditional Boxing Day dip in Henley.

They swam 70 metres across the River Thames from the landing stages near Red Lion Lawn on the Oxfordshire bank to Leander Club on the Berkshire side, cheered on by family and friends.

All the participants, who included model and television personality Calum Best, were in traditional bathing costumes despite the water temperature being just below 6C and some also wore Christmas hats.

Before the ninth annual challenge the swimmers met at the Angel on the Bridge pub for their traditional drink.

The event is organised by the Heller family, from Skirmett, who also take part.

The number of participants was not only up on last year’s 18 but also beat the record total of 52 set in 2016.

Doug Heller, 34, who swam with his sisters Beatrice and Rosie and mother Mandy, said: “It was probably the most successful yet. We were delighted to see so many people doing it but it’s slightly alarming as if it gets much bigger we will have to get St John Ambulance down!

“Everyone takes responsibility for themselves and they have got bag carriers, towels and hot drinks on the other side of the bank for when they get out. Everyone likes to get outside and shake off the Christmas cobwebs — there were smiles all round.”

Mr Heller, who wore a reindeer hat for the swim, added: “I jumped in but I didn’t go head first as I was protecting my antlers. I was one of the last across to make sure we didn’t have any stragglers.

“It certainly felt very cold and I think 6C was probably towards the lower end of what we have normally. The flow was probably slightly faster than we had anticipated so people ended up further down but as long as you kept swimming perpendicular you were fine getting across.

“On the whole people were surprised by how warm the air feels once you get out of the river and you do feel this glow after cold water swimming. People do get addicted to it because of the rush you get afterwards.

“There were lots of people on the bridge and on the banks cheering on their friends and family.”

Mr Heller believes the record turnout was helped by the good conditions and Harpsden resident Oliver Browett speaking about the swim that morning on BBC radio.

He said: “I think it has gathered its own momentum and people realise it’s not as scary as they might have thought when they see everyone getting out is grinning and delirious with the sense of achievement.

“People think ‘I might have a go next year’. When we started this it was the only opportunity to do it in the area but open water swimming has exploded in the last five to 10 years.”

Mr Heller’s 64-year-old mother is thought to have been the oldest swimmer this year, while he and his sisters were three of the five original participants who first swam in 2010.

Mr Best, who runs the BSTLFE gym off Marlow Road, took part with friends including interior designer Lynne Lambourne, from Peppard.

Ms Lambourne said: “It was the first time Calum and I had done it. On Christmas Eve we were sitting around chatting away and I said, ‘I’m doing this Boxing Day swim’ and he said, ‘I’m up for it’.

“What a crazy thing to do but what fun. There were so many people doing it and everybody was spurring each other on.

“The water was absolutely freezing. You dive in and everything stops working but it’s a short distance so if you quickly start swimming you’re all right.

“When you get out everybody’s on such good form and on such a high you seem to forget you’re that cold.

“Calum absolutely loved it and said he’d do it again next Christmas with me.”

Mr Heller said his family was looking forward to the 10th anniversary event next year.

“I can’t say what it will entail but we’ll try and think of something for the anniversary,” he added.

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