Becky’s Bangla Swim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our very first Swim Open Star

An article written by Becky Horsbrugh

 

 

 

 

 

 

On January the 28th I became the first British person to swim the 16km (10 mile) Bangla Channel in Bangladesh,  a stretch of water from Teknaf on the Bangladeshi coast to St Martin’s Island.

 

It was partly a personal challenge, but most importantly I did the swim to raise awareness of the appalling drowning statistics in the country, and the swim schemes that are running there that are hoping to buck this trend. 50 children a day die in the water in Bangladesh, and I was fortunate last summer to witness and help out with the life saving teaching programmes that have been set up for the children.

 

I came up with the idea of doing the swim following my return from that initial trip. I dearly wanted to return to the country again and do what I could to help out. When I discovered this swim it seemed the perfect vehicle to educate people on the importance of swimming. I spent around five months training properly.

 

Becky teaching in Bangladesh

 

Up to that point the furthest I had swum was 10 km, but by swimming 4 times a week and following a specific Swim Open training plan, by the time the swim came around I felt ready and fit enough to do it. During my training no session was over 5km in distance but all involved various drills, endurance, speed and technique. My biggest drawback was the timing of my big swim – being the end of January. I had to do all my training in the pool as I live in central London, and I am not great swimming long distances in very cold water.

 

I flew out to Bangladesh a  week before the swim. We held a news conference before I flew out to the coast and I was amazed to learn so many of the local journalists were unaware of the big issue of drowning in their own country. But they all also seemed keen to know more, and I felt so pleased that my message was getting across.

 

Two days later I flew down to Cox’s Bazar on the coast, where I stayed the night before meeting early the next morning with my swim team, who were organising the whole event. We all took a bus down the coast to Teknaf, which took around 2 hours and then picked up a ferry to the island. 

 

St Martins was beautiful, with white sand and coconut trees and blissful temperatures in the mid 20s. The water was around 20 degrees. However we had been warned the weather could turn, and when we all woke at 4.30am the following day the wind had really picked up. We travelled back to Teknaf to begin our swim in our support boats, which were open to the elements. We all got totally soaked and cold as the waves battered against the sides of the boat and then over us. I began to feel concerned as I knew if I started the swim cold there was no way I could complete it. I had my wetsuit on me and decided I had to wear it if I had any chance of completing the swim.

 

On arrival at the start point, I got quickly out the boat and changed into my suit. I was still shivering so ran up and down the jetty several times, desperately trying to warm up. There were two Bangladeshi swimmers giving it a go as well with me, and they were equally as cold. The heat of the rising sun did help as well and soon we were down at the water’s edge, ready to begin. A group of curious children – and adults! – looked on. Once the water was around waist high, we all said good luck and then began to swim.

 

The first hour seemed to take forever and the waves were swirling around me. A cold wind was blowing across the surface as well. I was bitten a couple of times by jellyfish – on my face and my ankle – but the pain didn’t last for long. I felt disorientated, but kept on following the boat ahead of me. I could see nothing but sea and sky. I’d agreed to take water breaks every 45 minutes. I felt big relief on the first break, as a bottle was thrown to me on the end of a rope. I drank what I could and then set off again.

 

I then got into a rhythm and the time seemed to fly. I had no idea what speed I was going or how far I had gone. The water and food breaks flew by until I hit the 3 hour mark. I was amazed I was feeling so good after that amount of time.  At that point we reckoned I had about an hour left to go. But I found out after I soon got stuck in the changing tides and spent an hour swimming, but not moving. I could see the island ahead of me but it took an age for it to seem closer.

 

Finally though I could see the beach, and then the sand beneath me and I was able to stand. I got out the water, surrounded by an inquisitive crowd and posed by the Finish line for photos. I couldn’t quite believe I had done it, in 4 hours and 45 minutes, and besides a sore shoulder didn’t feel that bad at all. I later found out the other two swimmers had been forced to quit the swim due to the cold and injury sadly. However that evening we still had a big celebration in our hotel.

 

We made our way back to Dhaka the following day and I was amazed on my return to find out my swim had had such big coverage in the Bangladeshi media. I spent the next few days giving interviews to newspapers and television programmes. Everywhere I went people were congratulating me and talking about the big issue of drowning. It was fantastic to know I had really raised awareness, and a couple of thousand pounds as well towards the swim schemes, on top of completing my big challenge.

 

You can still donate by visiting Becky’s sponsor page. Please give what you can to this great cause.

 

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