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Battered by high winds, tides and freezing temperatures, Vicki Saunders of Devonshire Day Nursery in Chiswick has conquered the English Channel for charity in a marathon swim to the French coast.
While the majority of other challengers turned back due to the conditions, Vicki, a Quality and Training Advisor at the Ofsted-rated ‘Outstanding’ day nursery in Bennett Street, Chiswick, and three team mates ploughed on through the night to reach France in 16.42 hours.
Only six relay teams have officially been successful this year. Wracked with seasickness; navigating jellyfish-infested waters and hampered by tidal swells that slowed progress and felt like a collision with a brick wall, Vicki admitted to moments of doubt.
“I did question whether we would make it due to the debilitating seasickness and vomiting and the intense cold after each night swim. The shivering was so intense we had to help each other get dressed and warm after a swim,” she said.
“Emails from home and messages from colleagues company-wide really motivated us to keep going. I was delighted and overwhelmed at the finish and the sand on the French beach never felt so soft under my feet,” she added.
The team was cheered on by their CEO Mike Thompson - founder of the award-winning employee-owned Childbase Partnership which has 44 day nurseries including Devonshire – in the small support boat.
Messaging colleagues company-wide throughout the challenge, Mr. Thompson said: “I am enormously proud and very emotional as I watch my colleagues battle against the elements. The waves are relentless and despite a big swell working against us, they are forging ahead. Their commitment is quite simply remarkable and this is the toughest challenge I have every witnessed.”
Mr. Thompson, who has conquered Kilimanjaro in Africa, run the London and New York Marathons and completed several ‘peak challenges’ in the UK, described each member of the team as amazing.
“I am sitting here watching as each of them prepares to swim. It is the early hours of the morning; cold, bitterly cold, and dark as each one slips into the water for their turn. It is a privilege to be allowed to share this awful boat with each and every one of them,” he said in another message.
Vicki and the team, all colleagues in ‘sister’ day nurseries, have braved freezing temperatures, night swims off Dover, high winds and torrential rain, and even digested small jellyfish, known as Sea Gooseberries, during winter-long training sessions for the challenge.
The team is raising cash for the Children’s Air Ambulance which has been adopted in all 44 nurseries and at Head Office for a year-long fund-raising drive.
The Charity has just one helicopter providing rapid response times to trauma and medical emergencies, for children and babies throughout the UK and is funded entirely by donations.