Cross-Channel Relay 2018

Cross-Channel Relay 2018

Written by Tori Lackey

In June we held our breath.

And before we knew it, our window came and went with terrible weather and without a swim.

For the first time in the history of the Biennial Cross-Channel Varsity Relay, both Oxford and Cambridge missed the initial scheduled slot.

Through a summer of uncertainty, we finally secured a new window: 23 September – 30 September. But we were down to five swimmers, and Cambridge failed to even produce a team.

On 27 September, the boat tugged itself away from the Dover shore. Lara Reed, undeterred by the dark, cold water, stood on the edge of the rocks, waiting for her signal to start swimming. At 1 am, Channel pilot Neil Streeter blew the horn and Lara took off towards France.

Over the next 5 hours, each of our team members would brave the Channel waters in the dark. Difficult to see anything beyond the moon and the green lights atop the boat, we indicated time markers to one-another via flashlight signals. With a five-minute warning, the next swimmer would prepare to jump in the water on the top of the hour.

George Stannard, Channel veteran, relieved Lara at 2 am. Having swam in the Oxford Channel Relay once before, and having completed his own individual crossing earlier in the summer, he took to the waves with confidence and a strong kick.

George was then followed by Lauren Burton, OUSC Women’s Captain and a first-time open water swimmer. Even when the water took her breath away, she persisted with inner strength and fast swimming.

Patrick Canipet, member of the Oxford University Triathlon Club, took to the water without hesitation. His stroke looked strong – a testament to his training and determination. A Frenchman, himself, Patrick was on a journey home.

Tori Lackey, member of OUSC and open-water veteran, followed the example of her brave teammates and jumped in the Channel at 5 am. Still dark, the boat lights were her guide through a long and grueling swim. She, like Lauren, swam with inner strength and worked hard to do her team proud.

At 6 am Lara jumped back in the water, this time with the light of dawn ahead of her. She measured her swim by the rising of the sun, and led the team onward with the resilience she regularly exudes.

Each swimmer completed another round of hour swims, and by the time Lauren swam at 8 am, France was well in sight. Motivated by the French shore, Patrick had a strong swim that led us even closer.

Determined to not make Lara swim for a third round, Tori entered the water at 10 am with renewed confidence. She was on a mission to get her team to France.

At 10:45, France was nearby and Lara hopped in the water behind Tori prepared to swim into shore if she had not yet reached the pebbled-beach by 11 am.

At 10:56 am, Tori walked onto the French beach where she gave the team the qualifying touch, clocking a sub-ten hour Channel swim by the team. She and Lara embraced in a victorious hug and were soon met by the other three who swam into the beach soon after. Land never felt so sweet.

In a speedy 9 hours and 56 minutes, the Oxford University English Channel Relay team faced a strong Spring tide, a lack of sleep, and dark, frigid water. But through the strength and determination of each of the team members, through the guidance of our patient observer, Kate, through the expertise of our Pilot, Neil, through the unwavering encouragement of Nick Thomas, and through the donations of our sponsors that made it all possible, we reached France.

Out of 120 relays of the 2018 season, Oxford University placed fourth and outswam all three branches of the British military.

Lara showed us all what team sacrifice looks like as she braved the first swim from Dover.

George logged his third successful crossing.

Lauren proved to herself that she was more strong and brave and capable then she ever knew she could be.

Patrick swam home.

Tori went to France for the first time in her life.

We were all honored to compete in this Oxford tradition.

We are all proud to have beat Cambridge, even if by default.

And we can all check swimming the English Channel off of our bucket lists.