Jellyfish, super tankers, driftwood and peaches - Blackpool Channel swimmer looks back on her triumph as a 15-year-old

The weather had been that of a typical British summer, and young Julie Bradshaw had seen her dream to swim the Channel postponed a couple of times through July and August due to blustery conditions..

Friday, 16th August 2019, 11:43 am
Dr Julie Bradshaw open water swimmer and coach

But the determination and motivation that has been a them of her life were there at the age of 15 and on August 19, 1979, she and her dad Philip made the decision to take the plunge despite a decidedly marginal weather forecast for the 21 mile swim and the first of the strong tides in the water between England and France.

Now forty years on, Dr Julie Bradshaw MBE says more and more people are enjoying the benefits of open water swimming, a sport that was once the preserve of the elite swimmers.

Julie, who organised the recent pier to pier swim off Blackpool Promenade and who is launching a new event in Fleetwood to get people into running and swimming, says there are real mental health benefits to cold water swimming.

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Julie aged 15 with dad Philip on Shakespeare Beach near Dover about to set foot into the Channel

But 40 years ago she had to show mental strength and commitment to complete her swim plus a little help from hot coffee and mushed up tinned peaches.

She said: “On the day I thought we were going to go home again to Blackpool because the forecast was not good, but Dad said, no we’re going to France.

“We had hopped to go mid July but conditions were terrible. We had been down to Dover a few times.

“That day, the forecast was 50-50 according to the pilot in Dover, so we decided to do it. The weather actually did get worse and the sea was choppy, which was a shame because it meant I could not get the time record for the youngest swimmer.

Julie getting covered with grease to insulate her against the cold of the Channel water. With mum Isobel and dad Philip

“Dad was in the boat following and I had coffee and sliced tinned peaches mushed up to make it easier for me to eat them as I was treading water.

“These days there are all sorts of sports nutrition drinks and things but I have always had peaches. I always tell people I am training that there is no once size fits all, you have to work with the individuals.

“I remember being greased up by mum Isobel on Shakespeare Beach near Dover, it was long before wet-suits were used, and my legs were going a little bit, but once in the water I was fine. I love being in the open water.

“While swimming you can hear the noise of the ships passing nearby. It is a busy shipping lane.

The Gazette report of her success in August 1979

“The first time I saw a tanker was a bit daunting, as they take a couple of miles to slow down so you have to keep clear.”

Julie suffered a couple of jellyfish stings and there was also dangerous driftwood to avoid and despite the waters becoming increasingly choppy she powered on, surprising the crew in the boat by increasing her stroke rate as she progressed.

Julie made it to the beach near Cap Gris Nez in France in 10 hours and nine minutes, a longer time than she had hoped due to the rougher conditions and the fact she had to find a safe place to make landfall in the dark avoiding rocks.

Julie began swimming asa junior at Arnold School being taught by Mrs Cheetham at the Lido.

Julie at the time of her record butterfly swim across the Channel

“I was good at most sports, but endurance swimming was my favourite. I was not the fastest, but the longer the distance, the more people I could beat.

“I love cold water swimming. It has documented mental health benefits.”

Julie, who returned to the Channel 23 year later to swim it just using the butterfly stroke in 14 hours and 18 minutes, still a record, went on to found her own business and sport motivation company Get Set for Success.

She graduated from Loughborough University and is a qualified swim coach, PE teacher, psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, counsellor and life coach.

Her inspiring coaching couple with her charity fundraising work related to swimming resulted in her getting an MBE in 2006.

But with around 20 swimming records and exploits ranging from Windermere swims to traversing around Manhattan Island, swimming is her first love.

“Open water swimming is becoming much more popular these days, thanks to the increasing popularity of events such as triathlons and the Olympics. Apart from the physical exercise benefits, it is wonderful to be in the outdoors. Last month’s Blackpool pier to pier was a great success.”