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Battered by high winds, tides and freezing temperatures, Melissa Hepden of Field House Day Nursery in Buckingham 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, Melissa and three team mates ploughed on through the night to reach France in 16.42 hours. Only four relay teams have officially been successful this year.
Wracked with seasickness; navigating jelly fish infested waters and hampered by tidal swells that slowed progress and felt like a collision with a brick wall, Melissa said: “I can honestly say it was the hardest challenge and time of my life. I can’t imagine anything ever coming close to this. Once I was able to stand on the beach in France the emotion took over and then swimming back to the boat there were little seals bobbing up to see us. The whole experience was surreal,” she said.
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 Field House – 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.
Returning to a hero’s welcome at the nursery in Tingewick Road less than 24 hours after reaching the French coast, Melissa was met by cheering colleagues and children who has made a banner with balloons; cards of congratulation and prepared a special lunch of her favourite food to welcome her home.
All had been instrumental in helping Melissa – who trained in Box End Park Lake, off the Dover coast and in the gym – to acclimatise to cold water temperatures by throwing buckets of cold water over her in the nursery car park.
The team – which included colleagues from a sister nursery and a Quality and Training Advisor - 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.