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Mermaids prepare for Bristol Channel swim

Henley Mermaids
The Henley Mermaids have been practising in the Thames by Wargrave

WARGRAVE residents might have caught a glimpse of this local team of Mermaids, who will soon be the first all-female group to swim the Bristol Channel.

Henley Mermaids, who train in Wokingham borough and can often be spotted swimming past Wargrave, are gearing up for their longest relay yet later this month.

The swim team formed a few years ago as nothing more than a WhatsApp group so the ladies could find regular swimming buddies.

Now, the group of five middle-aged women will be tackling the tidal and jelly fish-filled waters of Bristol Channel on Thursday, July 22 — one year on since they swam the English Channel.

They said they’re feeling “mentally and physically ready” for the 40km (25 mile) challenge, but Fiona Print, Mermaid and neurological nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, said it will still be “a real challenge”.

“There are specific channel swimming rules we have to stick to,” she explained. These include swimming on rotation with one hour in the water each and not being allowed to wear wetsuits.

“It’s quite strict,” she said.

The Bristol Channel, which has the second-highest tidal reach in the world, is littered with sea creatures, sand bars and islands.

Joan Fennelly, spokesperson for Henley Mermaids, said she believes the group is strong enough to go the distance.

“We won’t let each other down,” she explained.

“Our X factor is that as a team, we’re very tight.

“We may not look the best in our swimming costumes but it’s about what we can do, not what we can’t do.”

Fellow swimmer Laura Reineke added: “You have to think about how you will feel when you’ve done it.

“There’s no consideration that you won’t do it: you have to have that mindset.”

The ladies plan to complete the swim within 15 to 20 hours — and hope to raise more than £40,000 for charity along the way.

They are currently fundraising for four Irish and four British charities, which support people living with a range of neurological conditions.

Organisations include Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, Cure Parkinson’s and The Dublin Neurological Institute.

So far, they have raised £5,000 for the British charities and €3,500 (£3,000) for the Irish groups.

Ms Print said her years of experience looking after people with neurological conditions has shown her “what they can do to people and their families”.

“We are self-funding so the money raised does not pay for our expenses,” she said. “Everything is going to the charities to make people’s lives a little bit easier.”

Ms Reineke added every member of the Mermaids team has a connection with the illnesses.

Last year, the group also raised £32,000 for Henley Music School when it swam the English Channel.

In 2022, they plan to swim the 34km (21-mile) North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland and become the only all-female team to ever complete all three channels — also known
as the Triple Crown.

But for now, they are gearing up to set off on their next big swim.

They will start in Ilfracombe, in north Devon, weather-permitting.

To find out more about the team, visit: www.henleymermaids.com

Support their fundraising efforts and keep up-to-date with their big swim here: www.bit.ly/2UXNOpL and www.bit.ly/365Z45D

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