Saturday 31 December 2011

Mike Read receives an MBE in the Queens New Years Honour's Lits

Above and below: Mike Read MBE (centre) back in 1980 presenting the trophies to winners of the Bury St Edmunds Swimming Club (The Bury Beavers) annual club championships. Also in the picture starting at the back, left to right: Michael Ransom, me, Cheryl Cole, Andrew (Andy) Taylor, Lorraine Smith, Stephen Alan, Angela Stevenson. Middle row: Anna Gittus, Mike Read, Melanie Berry. Front, kneeling, Nigel Stemp.

I received an e-mail this morning stating that Mike Read had received an MBE for services to swimming in The Queens New Year's Honour's list (page 44 of document). Way back in 1980, I first met Mike when he presented the trophies to us at our annual club championships presentation evening. It was there that I first heard the title "King of The Channel". He explained how he had swum The English Channel 19 times then (now 33). My best friend, Nigel Stemp and I were simply amazed at this, and it was on that day, back in 1980 that the seed was planted for me wanting to swim the channel.

In 2006 when I decided I wanted to swim the channel, I hadn't seen or heard anything of Mike in all of those intervening 26 years. However, he was the obvious and first choice for me to "Google" and try to get in touch with, and he was extremely helpful and friendly when I did get in touch. I hadn't got involved in all of  Channel Swimming politics then, and didn't even realise there could be such a thing. I didn't know there were two organisations. When I found out about it all, it reminded me of the 'Monty Python' film 'The Life of Brian'. On one side you had 'The People's Front of Judea' (The Channel Swimming Association Limited) and on the other side you had 'The Judean People's Front' (The Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation). Both doing the same thing, getting people across The English Channel, but both with different sets of viewpoints, and means of doing it. I had stepped out of the cauldron of the Bury St Edmunds Town Council versus the St Edmundsbury Borough Council, straight into another quite different political arena!

Mike Read was the Chairman of The Channel Swimming Association Limited, and it was with them that I successfully completed my first English Channel swim. Mike helped me along the way, turning up at Felixstowe on December 26, 2006 wearing his 'Bury Beavers' sweatshirt which he had been given on that night way back in 1980 (pictured below). He inspired me to complete my longest cold water swim at that time - 1 mile @ six degrees CentigradeI was so, so cold, that if he hadn't been there I think I would have got out after 5 minutes! I will never forget his words when I finished the 35 minute swim. He came running down the beach and said "If you can do that, you can swim The Channel". Those words really inspired me to achieve my goal.

Above: Mike Read and I in the icy waters of The North Sea at Felixstowe, Suffolk on Boxing Day, December 26, 2006.

When I organised a 'Virtual Channel Swim' on May 28, 2007, again, he was there to be part of my virtual channel swim team which raised over £1,800 for CLIC Sargent Children's Cancer charity.

Above: Top left to right: Don Neate, President of West Suffolk Swimming Club in 2007, me and Mike Read outside the CLIC Sargent offices in Bury St Edmunds. Bottom, left to right: Me, English Channel aspirant Tom Gunning and Mike Read after completing our Virtual Channel Swim.
Whatever the politics that has gone in in Channel Swimming circles since then, and there has been a lot, all I know is this. If it hadn't of been for Mike Read's inspiring talk at 'The Centa' in Bury St Edmunds, way back in 1980, I would not be sitting here writing this post now. I would never have swum The Channel or represented my country at open water swimming. So when Mike's son asked me to write about how he inspired me, some 2-3 years ago now so that they could secretly get him an award, I was only too pleased to do so. His swimming experiences speak for themselves and so I would just like to say congratulations to Mike on receiving this award - Mike Read - Member of The British Empire.   

Thursday 29 December 2011

2011 - a sparse year for swimming, but exciting prospects ahead

Well, it's been a pretty sparse year for swimming, but with two young children, a new business to continue building and alot of time spent training in Advanced Clinical Massage in Brighton, it most certainly hasn't been boring! Apart from another swim around Brighton pier (pictured above) in September, my only swims for 2011 have been documented on this site. The problem is that I have been massaging from 10 am in the morning, sometimes until 9pm at night with virtually no breaks except for 20 minutes or so for nutrition. At 13.5 stones, I am some 2 stone (24 pounds) lighter than I was when I swum in the English Channel Relay in 2010, and this year has been somewhat of a blurr!

 In the summer, I thought of a quite unique swim which I believe to be possibly a world first. I measured it on Google Earth as about 26 miles in a straight line. I found a pilot who said they would help me, and their boat is shown above. It would be really tough and would probably involve 2 changes of tide. However, I cannot see at the moment how I would be able to train for such an event. I am still thinking about this one though.

 I did however, manage to complete my blog post for our 2010 Team Iryna International English Channel Relay. I started it just after the swim in 2010, but due to the delay in getting all of the team member's photos collated together, it never got finished. However, it is now finished and as it is in chronological order, you may not have realised it was there. If you click on the certificate above, or on these highlighted pieces of text, you will jump to the post. It brought back great memories finishing the post.

As I haven't got much else to do (HaHa), I have started writing a book based on my swimming an other experiences since I was five years old and joined the Bury St Edmunds Swimming Club. I have no idea how long it will take, but based on my word rate so far, it should be finished around 2020! I have provisionally called it "Journey to France...The Hard Way!". I will update the site with my progress over the next 8 years!

Lastly, I was delighted and humbled to have been include in the OpnWaterPedia website which I stumbled across by accident. Click here or on the logo above to access it.

I hope everyone has a very happy new year, and thank you to everyone who reads this site. I am still amazed that it gets around 60 unique hits per day from all over the world.

Cheers. Hoffy. x

Monday 8 August 2011

A swim around Felixstowe Pier - I feel a trend coming on!

Above: with Luca 2 days after his second birthday on Felixstowe beach. Sunday July 31, 2011.

To try and get back into swimming in the cold water (although it really isn't "cold" this time of year) we set off in two cars to Felixstowe, which is only a 40 minute drive for us, last Sunday. It was 9 month old Nico's first proper trip to the beach, with Luca being an old hand at it after last year's Suffolk Open Water Swimming trips every Sunday. With my two proposed swims for next year still in the planning stages, I need to start training, and Brighton and now Felixstowe were setting a trend of swimming around piers. This was my small step for today - to swim around Felixstowe Pier.

Although it was a beautiful sunny day, it was quite windy with many "white horses" visible on the sea. Getting into the sea felt really cold and I am really out of touch with getting into the cold water malarkey! I headed off to the pier while mum, dad, Beccy, Luca and Nico all sat on the beach in the sun wondering why this nutter keeps getting the sea and swimming around piers!

It wasn't a long swim, but it was good to be in the sea again, although it was very choppy and the tide was strong again like Brighton. On the far side of the pier, I did as I did in Brighton which was to swim at an angle of about 60 degrees into the tide, which then sent me in a straight line along the side of the pier. The worst bit was the cold water going in my ear. It really hurt for some reason. Really hurt. Never experienced that before. Anyway, suffice to say, I completed the swim and returned to shore satisfied. It's all the start of a years worth of training again to achieve my goal of swimming one river swim in Germany, and another swim in Suffolk involving two rivers and the sea.

After the swim, we headed of to 'Old Felixstowe' in search of a pilot boat. I got some good contacts at Felixstowe Sailing Club. Hopefully I can update things shortly, but first, I must go to hospital today for a hernia operation. It's been there for about 8 years but in the past couple of months it has been starting to hurt. Hopefully I can then get in the pool in about 2 weeks time to start the training properly. Both swims will be to raise more much needed funds for St Nicholas' Hospice in Bury St Edmunds.

Saturday 16 July 2011

2 Swims in The English Channel in Brighton in 2 days - Loved it!

This week I have been in Brighton again for 3 days as part of my ongoing Advanced Clinical Massage training. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Wrist and Arm Pain was the topic. During the first day, I made up my mind that I was going to swim round The West Pier, Brighton's most photographed building which was destroyed by fire in 2003 but soon to be replaced by the incredible i360.

Swim 1 - Wednesday July 13, 2011

So nearly 11 months after getting in any sort of water other than the bath or shower, I left the course at 5:30pm, headed back to my hotel, changed into trunks, T-Shirt and flip flops, and headed for the beach, towel, goggles, hat and earplugs in hand. I was on a mission. It felt strangely exciting, like something I had never done before. I walked down the beach and got ready, heart thumping 13 to the dozen at the thought of swimming right round this mighty structure in front of me.

Above: The West Pier, Brighton, by photographer Nicole Carman.

I went through my usual (when getting in cold water) routine of stepping in, bending over and splashing the cold water over me. It felt frigging freezing! Yet, it was probably about 16 Degrees C. About the same temperature as I had spend nearly 14 hours in exactly 4 years and 3 days ago on my first English Channel Swim. I kept on walking in, then took the plunge. Literally. I dived in and started swimming slowly. The stroke was fine, water felt quite warm actually, and so I headed off for my trek around the pier.

I stuck to the outside of the buoys. I assumed they were there as there was steel on the seabed after the fire. I was a bit worried as I had no idea how deep it was or how far below the surface any steel may have been. But the sea was as flat as a mill pond, and I felt OK. Not very fit, but OK. I pulled up level with the end of the pier, then turned left and swum around the back. The vast rusty steel columns were very intimidating and really quite eerie. As I swum around the back, I had a feeling of being along way out, alone and not really very sea swim fit for being out here on my own. I kept going, then turned left and headed back towards shore. It felt good. As I passed the end of the pier, I cut in and headed back to my starting point where my towel would hopefully still be laying. I made it to shore feeling very pleased, but as I stood up, I felt extremely dizzy. I kept wanting to fall over to the left. It was all I could do to stand up. Like a type of vertigo. My head was spinning. I steadied myself and just stood there until it disappeared. Weird indeed! Never experienced that before. But I had done it! I walked back to the hotel in my trunks and settled in for the night, determined to do the same the next day.

Swim 2 - Thursday July 14, 2011

At the end of day 2 of the 3 day course, we were all invited out to dinner by the course instructors, Rachel and Sue. This was to be at 7pm. So I rushed back to the hotel and went through the same routine as the day before, heading off to the beach determined to swim around again. When I saw the sea, I couldn't believe the difference to the day before! The tide was coming in at about 45 degrees to the pier, and the waves were huge. I know we swimmers do tend to exaggerate about huge waves, but these were big buggers, especially when you are not sea swimming fit. I didn't care, I was going in. I went through the same routine and eventually got in, literally being battered and beaten back by the force of the incoming tide.

I started to swim forward and got hit again and again by the waves. This was tough, but the worst thing was I was getting swept towards the large steel girders of the pier at incredible force. I am never sacred of the sea, but I do respect it. I decided that if I swum behind the pier, I would be swept into the steel, so I decided to swim along to the end of the pier then come back again. On the way out, I swum away from the pier at 45 degrees, which compensated for the sea coming in at 45 degrees. This meant that I swum in a relatively straight line. Clever I thought!

On the way back, I did the opposite. I swum toward the beach at 45 degrees into the tide which meant again I swum in a relatively straight line. But on the way back, the waves picked me up and hurtled me downwards, one of them pinning me to the seabed for a few seconds. I didn't panic, let it pass, then carried on my way. I arrived back on dry land, experienced the dizziness again, but not so badly, then walked back to the hotel, showered and met up with the rest of the people on the course for a great dinner.

I am really pleased to have completed these two very contrasting swims, back in the pool now until I visit Brighton again in September for the advanced sports stretching part of the course.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Feeling the urge to swim again after 11 months out!

Above: Standing in front of the old Brighton Pier, June 2011, pondering my next swim.

Since March 2009, our life has been in a constant state of flux. We have had two beautiful sons, Luca and Nico, both Beccy and I have been elected to St Edmundsbury Borough Council and having changed career direction from 20 years in IT to Sports Injury/Clinical massage, I have been constantly on training courses to qualify in my chosen new career. This has taken me from Bury St Edmunds, to Grantham, to Birmingham, to London, to Dublin, and currently includes many trips to Brighton until January 2012. It was while on a trip to Brighton last month, that I decided that I needed to swim again. As I gazed across the English Channel, seeing France looming even larger than it appears from Dover, I decided on a swim I want to do, but will take some organising.

On my return to Bury St Edmunds, the first thing I did was to contact the excellent team at Culford School Sports and Tennis Centre, who once again agreed to sponsor me for my next challenge. My training base will be in the superb 25 Metre pool at Culford where it all started in 2006 when I announced to my wife that I was going to swim the English Channel. I can't believe that it was in fact 4 years ago on Sunday July 10th that I completed the first swim. Incredible how time flies!

I just have one small issue to sort out before I can start training in earnest - a hernia! I have had a small hernia in my groin for about 6 plus years. It hasn't hindered me in any way, shape or form. In fact, I swum the channel with it twice! However, due to the vigor's of my job, I have now torn it slightly and will be operated on on August 8th, followed by 10 days rest. Then it will be all systems go! For now though, I will need to start organising things to see if the swim is viable. It will be a river swim, and in Germany. That's all I want to say at present.

Off to Brighton again now. Hopefully will pluck up the courage to get in the sea. It will be tough as I haven't been in a pool or sea for all these months.



Monday 21 February 2011

2 Firewalks Completed - It's all about the Body and Mind...

Above: The moment I completed my first of two firewalks on Sunday February 20, 2011 for The Stroke Association.

Yesterday I completed another of my long term goals by completing not one, but two firewalks. I handed just over £293 (inc. gift aid) to The Stroke Association yesterday, but hopefully I can add to this over the next week or so.

Arriving at The Haberden, home of The Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club, at about 3:45, I queued up with about 80 other potential firwalkers to hand over our sponsorship money, and sign our disclaimer. As I walked in, the fire was built and lit ready for us to commence at about 5:15pm.

Above: The team from UK Firewalk build and light the fire ready for about 80 firewalkers to do battle with both body and mind.

After a very interesting and informative training session with two time Guinness World Record Holder for the greatest distance walked on fire - Scott Bell, we all walked out onto the Bury St Edmunds 1st XV Rugby pitch to the cheer of the quite large crowd, took our shoes off and queued to await our turns. The ground was absolutely freezing. I think taking our shoes off was designed to make our feet numb to the pain of the fire. It really did make them numb.

Above: The fire is well alight, the crowd was cheering and it was time to commence the firewalk!

Scott Bell started us off by showing how it was done; stand at the start of the fire, mental focus - picturing yourself completing the firewalk before you have even started it (much as I did many times on my channel swims), a big breath - in through the nose and out through the mouth, then...just walk across totally focussed on the job in hand (or should I say under foot?!).

It looked easy, he walked across and everyone followed, one by one to large cheers of the crowd for every successful firewalk.

Eventually it was my turn, and I went through the mental routine as described above, and as I had in fact been doing many times in my head in the days leading up to the firewalk using NLP visualisation techniques.

Deep breath in...focus...and...walk!

It went very quickly. Scott had measured the temperature at 533 Degrees Centigrade. That's HOT where I come from! But having mentally prepared for it, apart from a small bit of charcoal catching in between my left foot toes, I didn't feel a thing. The body can cope with whatever you throw at it, as long as your mind is in the right place. I enjoyed it so much, I went back and did it again!

My feet were as black as black can be afterwards. Even today after washing them last night, and bathing them this morning, they are still quite black. But no pain, blisters or after affects. Just pleasure at having completed the firewalk and having exceeded my £250 target for The Stroke Association.

Thank you to my family and friends who turned up to watch (Beccy, Luca, Nico, Mum, Dad, Terry, Viv, Mike, Monica, Julie & Dave) and for those who sponsored me. But it's not too late to sponsor me. Just click on the link below and donate securely online on my JustGiving web page.

Monday 24 January 2011

No swimming at present, so I am doing a Firewalk to raise funds for 'The Stroke Association'

Above: On February 20, 2011, I will be walking across 1300 Degrees F Coals for 'The Stroke Association'.

2010 was a strange year for swimming for me. It is important, that when you set yourself a goal, you are totally focused on achieving that goal. For both of my English Channel swims, this was the case, but for my 2010 swim of The Wash, it simply wasn't. We had a multitude of personal issues which were more important than swimming. The biggest of these were the fact that Beccy and I were waiting for our second child to be born (Nico - October 27, 2010) and that I was going on a multitude of courses to help us build up our Personal Wellness business. Looking after my family and my business had to be my no. 1 concern and so although I completed The Great East Swim, The Great London Swim and a successful English Channel Relay, it ended there. I haven't been in a pool or the sea since September and am not sure what lies in store from a swimming perspective at present. I am happy with this, and I am sure I will be back, but not at the moment.

Valentines Firewalk for 'The Stroke Association'

That said, having been a charity fund raiser for as long as I can remember, I couldn't resist being able to tick another little goal off my list, as well as raising funds for a cause close to home. On Sunday February 20, 2011, I am going to complete a firewalk for 'The Stroke Association'.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted. Most strokes occur when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain. Some strokes are caused by bleeding in or around the brain from a burst blood vessel.

My Dad.

In 1990, 6 months after retiring, my dad had what is called a TIA (transient ischaemic attack) sometimes called a mini-stroke. For many hours he did not know where he was, where he had been that day or anything you told him literally 10 seconds previous. Just over 10 years later in 2001, he had a full stroke which affected his speech, and right arm and leg. He has never fully recovered and requires a zimmer frame to walk. But he was one of the lucky ones as you will see below.

Facts about stroke

Every 5 minutes someone in the UK has a stroke. Each year an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the UK. A quarter of a million people in England and Wales are living with long-term disability as a result of stroke.

What is The Stroke Association?

It is the only charity solely concerned with combating stroke in people of all ages. They want a world where there are fewer strokes and all those touched by stroke get the help they need. Their mission is to prevent strokes and reduce their affect through providing services, campaigning, education and research. The Stroke Association helped my dad, and so now I will be helping raise funds for them.

I will be doing a firewalk for The Stroke Association on Sunday February 20, 2011. The firewalk will involve walking barefoot over a 5 - 6 metre strip of burning hot embers reaching temperatures of 1300 Degrees F. A fire-team builds the fire, and when it has burned to red-hot embers it is raked level and prepared for the walk. I will remove my footwear and walk across the coals!

Please sponsor me...

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate - I raise more, whilst saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

So please dig deep and sponsor me now @:

Thank You.

Paul Hopfensperger (Hoffy)