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Swimming students tackle the Channel challenge to raise £14,000

Alex Joss and Rachel Duncan celebrate after swimming the Channel

Alex Joss and Rachel Duncan celebrate after swimming the Channel

Rachel approaches the coastline of France

Rachel approaches the coastline of France

Press release issued: 12 September 2012

Two brave University of Bristol students have conquered the English Channel, swimming the busiest stretch of water in the world in just over 16 hours to raise almost £14,000 for a local charity.

Alex Joss and Rachel Duncan achieved the impressive feat, known as the “Everest of swimming”, after leaving Dover at 4am in the pitch black and finally emerging from the cold and choppy waters of the Channel in Calais at 8pm.

Their efforts have so far raised a massive £13,756 for Bosom Buddies, a charity which supports both men and women fighting breast cancer at the Bristol Royal Infirmary through a counselling service and by funding equipment for the Oncology Unit.

The pair chose the cause after seeing first-hand the devastation that breast cancer can cause, with both friends and family being closely affected by the disease.

Wanting to fundraise as much as possible, Alex and Rachel set themselves a huge challenge and began training in earnest during their third year of studying Mechanical Engineering. Neither came from swimming backgrounds and invested many hundreds of hours in the swimming pool while also embracing the tougher, colder conditions of training in open waters.

Rachel graduated in July and 23-year-old Alex has been juggling final preparations whilst completing a dissertation for his Masters in Economics, Accounting and Finance.

He said: “We were so lucky to get the weather conditions we did. Thankfully it was far calmer and sunnier than the conditions we’d been training in, which gives you a huge mental boost.

“We’d prepared for the worst given how awful it’s been this summer, so when the sun came out on the day we couldn’t quite believe it. The first few hours were very tough, but we got into our stride and in the final miles of swimming everyone was pretty emotional to see the French coastline. Two years of slogging it out in horrible conditions had finally paid off.”

Alex and Rachel completed the swim in a relay, taking it in turns to swim for an hour before swapping. During the hour out of the water, a dedicated support team helped them get warm with hot drinks and by wrapping them up in sleeping bags and nine layers of clothing.

Only 13 other teams have achieved a two-person relay from England to France, according to the Channel Swimming Association.

The challenge was even steeper for Rachel, 22, who couldn’t even swim front crawl when they started training in the Students’ Union swimming pool.

She said: “It’s certainly been a steep learning curve as neither of us started as keen swimmers. The Channel is 21 miles at its narrowest but our final route covered over 30 miles due to the tides. We’d prepared ourselves mentally and physically but there were still so many factors outside of our control.

“We both wanted to attempt a big challenge that would raise a lot of money and awareness for a local charity. It’s been overwhelming to receive so much support from all our friends and family. They’ve kept us going over the past two years and have made the difference between us making it or not.”

The team are hoping to top-up their fundraising total by auctioning signed Arsenal, England Rugby, Great Britain Hockey and London Wasps shirts. Items will be listed on the team’s website, with bids via eBay from Thursday, 20 September.

For further information on the auction or to support the team, visit


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