Sunday 23 December 2007

Looking back at 2007...

Above: Tooting Bec Lido, South London, venue for my first swimming event in over 13 years, the Cold Water Swimming Championships hosted by South London Swimming Club on March 24, 2007.

Whatever we do in life, it's good to reflect on things, to look back and see what you have achieved, what you haven't achieved and what, if anything you could have done better to reach your goals. Below is a summary of my swimming events for 2007.

1 - Cold Water Swimming Championships - March 24, 2007

After spending winter 2006 heavily in training in both the pool and the sea, I entered my first swimming event of 2007, and my first for more than 13 years on March 24, 2007, three days before my 44th birthday. It was there that I met Kevin Murphy and Cliff Golding for the first time. This chance meeting led to me spending my weekends in Dover this summer training on swimmers beach, meeting Freda Streeter, The Channel General, Alison Streeter, Queen of The Channel, and ultimately I believe this was the major factor which led to me completing the channel swim in July. The great Jim Rohn once said "Things don't just happen, they happen just".

I came away from Tooting having won a Gold in the Freestyle, and a Silver in The "Head Up Breastroke". These were my first swimming medals since 1983, some 24 years ago!

2 - Colwick Park 4KM Lake Race - May 27, 2007

Having joined the British Long Distance Swimming Association (B.L.D.S.A.) for the first time this year, the first event I competed in was the 4KM Race at Colwick Park, Nottingham in May. I had never competed in an open water race before, and it certainly was different to say the least, but also, really enjoyable. This was not a masters event, but an all age group event, and I was competing against swimmers from 18 years old, to some over 70. I was astonished and very pleased to come home in 6th position overall, in a time of 1 Hr. 1 Minute and 43 Seconds.

Above: Entering the water at Colwick Park (top - 4th from right), and (bottom) exiting the water and getting my breath back after a mammoth last 750 Metre sprint to the finish line.

3 - "Champion of Champions", Dover Harbour - June 16, 2007

This was the second (B.L.D.S.A.) swimming event I competed in, and it was a really tough one. It involves swimming in three races in Dover Harbour. The first is 5 miles, the second 3 miles and the third 1 mile. All times are added together and the winner is crowned "Champion of Champions". It sounds simple but the drop out rate was very high. I was pleased to complete the event, and come home overall in 5th place. This again I found astonishing as it was an open age group, not a masters event. It was certainly good stamina practice for my channel swim attempt which was by then, less than a month away.

Above: The running start of the first "Champion of Champions" event - The 5 mile race. Dover Harbour - June 16, 2007.

3 - English Channel Swim - England to France, July 10, 2007

July 10, 2007 will be forever etched into my mind. It was the day I swum to France. The elation I felt at having achieved something that had been in my mind for 27 years cannot be expressed in writing. Suffice to say I was ecstatic.

Before I swum, people asked me how long I thought it would take. Based on my swim speed in Dover Harbour, I had 14 hours as a figure in my mind, although with the channel, it is impossible to say how long it will take due to the tides and weather conditions on the day. I completed the swim in 13 Hours and 52 minutes. I was pretty close with my estimate.

It was a day I will never forget, and I can honestly say, that I thoroughly enjoyed it! I enjoyed it so much, that I agreed to do it again, only this time two ways! When I told Beccy I had booked a "two-way" she said "What would you like for tea?"!!

Above: In the channel swimming with the Ferries. Tuesday July 10, 2007.

4 - Dover Regatta Weekend - 2KM Race - August 11, 2007

When I asked my wife Beccy if it was alright to enter a race in Dover on her Birthday, at first she wasn't too pleased. As it turned out, it was a beautiful weekend which we all enjoyed thoroughly, and met Mark Robson who is attempting a channel swim in 2008 and his girlfriend Kelly. Loraine Verghese who was my channel swim support swimmer was also there collecting sponsorship money for her channel swim and it was generally a really great weekend.

The race was organised by Dover Lifeguard Club and was from The Prince of Wales Pier, across the harbour, back again and finishing by running up the beach across the finish line. I was again astonished when it was announced that I had won the over 40's race, and a beautiful glass trophy was presented to me.

Above: (Top) Little Hoffy, me with Over 40's winners trophy, and Beccy on her 32nd Birthday.

5 - Eastern Region Masters Championships - October 14, 2007
On Sunday October 14, 2007 I entered the Eastern Region Masters Championships held in my home town of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. I swum as a member of the West Suffolk Masters Swimming Club, and it was my first indoor competition since 1994, some 13 years ago. I was delighted to come home with 2 x Gold and 3 x Silver medals.

Above (Top): Swimming in the 100 Metres freestyle, and below, my medal haul for the meet.

All in all, 2007 has been a fantastic year for swimming. When I retired in 1994, I never thought that I would compete again, and yet, this has got to be one of my best ever years for swimming. It certainly has been different! We've met some wonderful people, visited some new places, raised just under £10,000 for charity and hopefully next year will be just as good, if not, even better!

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Swim training severely hampered by a tin of dog food!

Above: The fattest finger you ever did see after severing a tendon on my right hand middle finger on Tuesday November 06, 2007.

Having returned from a swim in Dover Harbour on Saturday November 03, 2007 I was all fired up to start my swim training the following week. Normally on a Tuesday evening, I swim at Clarice House in the 20 Metre pool there. Unfortunately, this particular evening, I had to attend the Mildenhall Road Estate Community Association AGM in my role as a local councillor. Rushing home to wach a TV programme, I opened the back door to be greeted by our dog Casper who was waving his tail thinking it was food time. I grabbed a tin of "Chappy" dog food, lifted the ring pool lid, put a spoon down to the bottom of the can, and twisted the spoon sharply to access the food. Just as I did, Casper nudged the tin. The lip on the inside of tin, coupled with the turning movement of my hand, ripped through my skin right down to the bone, and blood spurted everywhere. I looked at it, feeling no pain and knew it was serious.

I shouted for my wife who came running while I held the two sides together, and she bandaged it up. I left it until the next morning where I spent about 4 hours in casualty, was lectured by a very nice surgeon about the state of the NHS in England, and was informed that I would require an operation to repair the tendon, but there were no beds and so I would need to have nil by mouth that night, then return to hospital the next day for the operation. I was seriously not happy. Not for any other reason than I was worried about my two way channel swim! All I asked was "When can I swim again?". The surgeon replied "Not for at least 4 weeks". I was distraught.

I spent all day Thursday in hospital, having had nil by mouth, not even a glass of water, since 10.30pm the night before. At 5.00pm I was operated on, and a large 1.6mm diameter steel pin inserted right down the midle of my finger to keep it straight while the tendon, which had been repaired, was allowed to heal. I was thoroughly depressed.

Above: The finger on November 13, 2007 after having the dressing removed to check the healing process.

On November 13, 2007, I attended my local doctors surgery to have the dressing changed, where the full extent of what I had done became apparent. The photos above clearly show it in all it's glory!

I have now had the steel pin removed, but the end of my finger is still very sore, swollen, and it actually looks like it has been sewed together twisted! I have no idea if it will ever be the same again, but at this moment in time, it doesn't feel like it.

Last night I got back in the water for the first time since my dip in Dover Harbour on November 03, 2007. It felt very strange, and my finger did not feel good on the final pull through when doing front crawl. I therefore spent most of the time with hand paddles on, which felt more comfortable.

Above: Meeting 2008 Belgian Channel relay aspirants Johan Rycx and Jean-Pierre at the CSA Dinner on Saturday November 03, 2007.

On December 28, 2007, I will be swimming in The North Sea in De Panne off the coast of Belgium with a 2008 Belgian Channel Relay team I met at the CSA Dinner in Dover on November 03, 2007. I am apprehensively looking forward to it, if that makes sense. It has been a very tough 6 weeks, and it will take a monumental effort to complete my two way, but I will not give up. The one thing that gives me hope is something Tim Cheeseman said to me when we were in France in October. He said "I never start swimming until January each year". The reason this gives me hope is that he did the channel, and about 3 hours back again this year attempting a two way, and I am slightly younger than him! (No offence Tim!).

Well, after that depressing story, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New year, and I will be back to form as soon as is humanly possible. I promise!

Monday 10 December 2007

CSA Dinner & Certificate Presentation. Dover, November 03, 2007

Above: Hoffy starts to aclimatise to the cold water again by swimming in Dover Harbour on Saturday Novemer 03, 2007.

While most people were lighting bonfires and watching fireworks on a cool November weekend, the Hoffy's made their way to Dover, to perform the last act of my 2007 Channel Swim, and start preparations for the 2008 Two Way in style.

Arriving before lunch, we went straight down to the harbour and I was really surprised to see the harbour, and indeed the channel itself, the calmest that I have ever seen it. It was so calm, that I wished I could swim the channel again there and then! The temperature was OK. At 14.1 Degrees Centigrade, it was only 0.9 Degrees colder than the day I swum the channel! It was still cooling down from the summer. I completed 2,000 Metres in 35 minutes and felt pleased that I had been in the sea again after my break. Little did I know that this would be my last swim for many weeks due to a bizarre injury just 3 days later.

Having showered, and put on our gladrags, we took a taxi to Dover Town Hall to attend the Channel Swimming Association 57th Annual Dinner & Presentation Evening. It brought back memories of last years event, which we attended to gather as much information as possible to help in my preparations for the channel. This year I was back as a "Channel Swimmer", and was presented with my certificate by Sunny Lowry MBE, the president of the CSA who swum the channel in 1933, and who retired from her post the following day at the age of 97 years young.

Above: Sunny Lowry MBE presents Hoffy with his certificate of completion (see below) for his channel swim.

Above (left to right): Mike Read, Chairman of the CSA, Rebecca Hopfensperger, Hoffy and Little Hoffy after the certificate presentation.

Above: Certificate certifying that I swum the channel on July 10, 2007 in 13 Hours and 52 Minutes.

The following day, we were delighted to collect a cheque from Jimmy Gleeson of Cullins Yard in Dover who became the title sponsor of my Two Way Channel Swim 2008. We always eat and drink there during our weekends in Dover training for the swim. I would like to say a big thank you to Jimmy for agreeing to sponsor me.

Above: Jimmy Gleeson present Hoffy with a cheque to become the title sponsor of the 2008 Two Way Channel Swim.

The last task before leaving for home, was to visit Evelyn and David at Varne Ridge where we stayed during my channel swim week, to look at my name on their "Wall of Fame". All swimmers who stay at Varne Ridge, and complete the swim, get their names on the wall. Some even get theirs spelt right! (look closely).

Above: Hoffy points to his name (almost - should be "Hopfensperger" not "Hopensperger"!) on the Varne Ridge wall of fame.

All in all, it was a good weekend, with lots achieved, and it was the final chapter of the 2007 Channel Swim. It has been an incredible journey, and a big thank you to all concerned, especially my wife Beccy, Little Hoffy, John Stemp and all the Dover beach crew and swimmers we have met.

Now we must do it all again for next years two way. The new challenge begins!

Sunday 2 December 2007

Channel Swimmers Re-union. France, October 2007

Above: Trip organiser and tour leader for the day, Cliff Golding, at Sangatte, France at 10.30am, Saturday October 20, 2007 - Rugby World Cup Final day.

When Cliff Golding mentioned in July 2007, the month of my channel swim, that there would be a French re-union in October after all the swims had finished, I had no hesitation in booking my place. What I didn't realise when we booked it, and I'm sure Cliff didn't either, was that England would be playing South Africa in Paris in the Rugby World Cup Final on the very same day.

Having stayed at The Sandown in Dover the night before, we queued up at The Eastern Dock to board the 6.25am ferry to Calais. When we arrived, you never saw so many England Rugby fans in their replica shirts just waiting to get to Paris and be part of the atmosphere and rugby fever that had gripped the nation.

We arrived at the rendezvous, the church at Sangatte, at about 10.15 am, where Cliff gave us a warm welcome, explained that we had lost Scott B. Richards who had flown all the way from the USA to be with us, and proceeded with the tour hoping that he would catch us up later. We started the trip on the beach at Sangatte, then got into our vehicles to start our slow drive in convoy along the coast stopping at Cap Blanc Nez, Wissant (my landing spot) and then finally Cap Griz Nez where we would stop for lunch.

Above: Standing on the cliffs at Cap Blanc Nez with (top photo) me, Beccy (my wife and channel swim feeder), little Hoffy, and bottom photo, Damien Westray (The Rev) who's neck hasn't been the same since his mammouth 18 Hour 53 minute channel swim!

Above: At Cap Blanc Nez with my landing spot at Wissant in the background (just behind my head) and Cap Griz Nez in the very far distance.

Above: One of this years youngest channel swimmers, 16 years old Megan Forbes (04-09-2007 - 14:27) on the beach at Cap Blanc Nez. It was a stunningly beautiful day, with clear blue skies and a cool breeze coming in off the sea.

Above: On the sea front at Wissant (my landing spot) with left to right: Me (10-07-2007 - 13:52), Rose Levien (25-08-2007 - 13:22), Lynn Hawkins (04-08-2007 - 16:40), Jaime Minter-Green (08-08-2007 - 14:32), Rob Drysdale (Relay 2007), Tim Cheeseman (25-08-2007 - 15:07), Pete Beatty (19-07-2007 - 18:11), and finally, laying across everyone, the illustrious Mr. Cliff Golding.

Above: After a veritable feast at La Sirenne restaurant at Cap Griz Nez, at which Scott B. Richards finally caught up with us, master of ceremonies, Cliff Golding, ends the trip with one of his masterful speeches.

Above: Michael Renford (01-08-2007 - 12:10), son of the late great former "King of The Channel" Des Renford, lines up for a photo on the beach at Cap Griz Nez.

Above: The extraordinary "beach" at Cap Griz Nez. It was good to see this as I will remember it if I happen to land there next year. When the tide is in, it really must be quite unpleasant to swim over that!

Above: Left to Right - Rose Levien, Jamie Minter-Green, Scott B. Richards (09-10-2007 - 13:20), Tim Cheeseman and Me at La Sirenne restaurant, Cap Griz Nez.

After saying our goodbyes, most people went back to Dover to watch the Rugby World Cup final at "The White Horse". We had booked to stay at the beautifully situated Le Vivier Hotel in Wissant for the night and watched the game in a small Restaurant in Wissant surrounded by many French people cheering on South Africa. It obviously worked because we narrowly lost!

I would like to thank Cliff and Laura for organising the event, and hopefully I will be back next year as a "two-way channel swimmer". As we watched the sun go down over Cap Griz Nez from our hotel balcony window (above), it almost felt like the whole chapter of my first channel swim had come to a close, and the next one was about to begin. There was just one more thing to do to fully complete the event, which was to collect my certificate on Saturday November 03, 2007 at Dover Town Hall. More on this will follow shortly.