Making a splash for cash – by Lesley Heaney

As she approaches her final two miles, Lesley shares her swimming journey – illustrated above, by her seven-year-old daughter.

“You’re doing what?!?!?!”…those were the words of my husband when I told him my latest brainwave to swim the equivalent of the English Channel, in a swimming pool, on my own, for 22 long miles, getting wrinkly, clocking up mileage…every…single…week for 12 weeks.

I suppose I can understand his surprise. The closest I’d come to a breaststroke was when I marinated chicken breasts in green pesto a few weeks previous.  But, somewhere inside me, I had a burning desire to improve my swimming with the added bonus of raising money for a worthy cause. After thinking about it, it became a question of ‘why not’, rather than ‘why’?

And so an idea was born – I took up the Diabetes UK Swim 22 challenge, swimming 22 miles to raise money for the charity.

My swimming career

About a year ago I started adult improver swimming classes at Bangor Aurora.  I could swim before or so I thought, a sort of a feeble head-above-the-water ‘breaststroke’, which I was told by my swimming instructor at the first lesson was not, in fact, a swimming technique at all.

Back to the drawing board, I went and in the past year I’ve improved my breaststroke technique, learned freestyle and backstroke and my green pesto chicken is better than ever ;-).

I decided I wanted a bigger challenge, something to push me to learn harder and faster and I came across Swim 22.

My worthy cause

Did you know…that diabetes affects more than 4.5 million people in the UK? That’s more than any other serious health condition in the UK which is more than dementia and cancer combined.

In Northern Ireland (NI) where I am, there are 100,000 people living with diabetes and it’s on the rise.  More than 3,000 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in NI each year, around one person every two minutes and many of these are preventable Type 2 diabetes. Not only are families and individuals affected by diabetes, but it costs the health service over £1 million a day to manage diabetes in NI.

From 22 February to 22 May, I aimed to swim the distance of the English Channel – that’s 22 miles – in my local pool while getting sponsored for every length. To meet the challenge, I had to swim 120 lengths each week.

And I’m nearly there. Three weeks off the challenge (though I missed a week while in Donegal – sadly the waves were too choppy for an open water swim) and I have completed almost 20 miles.

Every length I complete – and every pound I raise – will help Diabetes UK to get closer to its vision of a world where diabetes can do no harm.

Swimming Diary

Week 1

Day 1 – 22 February – first swim and I managed 42 lengths – off to a good start!

Delighted with all the early donations so I upped my target to £400!

Day 2 – reached 1.2 miles – starting to wonder what I’ve got myself into.

Day 4 – 50 lengths today – a personal best for me!

Day 6 – I have reached 3 miles – just 19 to go…

Day 7 – Diabetes UK launch a Leaderboard and out of an incredible 4,500 swimmers out in the lanes for Diabetes UK, I’m position 255!

End of week 1 – I may have been a little over-enthusiastic – painful shoulder injury and I can’t turn my head. I’m told by my swimming instructor I need to rest for a few days and need to remember to do stretches before, during and after my swim – this, the (24-year old) instructor tells me, is very important “especially as you get older” (deep breath, count to 10….).

Week 2

Four days lost to resting my shoulder and to let the pain subside – a bit of a setback.

Day 10 – 3 March – Shoulder eased up enough to go to a swimming lesson and a swim session after, totalling 44 lengths. And I remembered the stretches….go me.

Day 13 – managed 50 lengths again. Trying to fit in day time swims before collecting my children from school, to avoid the passive aggressive big ego swimmers who tend to take over the pool in the evenings.

£412 raised – so impressed by everyone’s generosity. Raised my target to £500!

Week 3

Day 15 – 8 March – 42 lengths. Struggled today – didn’t help that Bangor Aurora pool is being taken over by a giant inflatable ‘assault course’ pushing swimmers to a restricted area of just two lanes at a depth of 100cm (just over 3 feet!) to cater for children too  ☹

6 miles completed!  Well on track to complete the 22 miles within the timescale.

Tried an early morning swim before work after dropping the kids off at breakfast club. Turns out this is peak time for the pensioners, so had to swim around them having group chats in the lanes – managed 38 (wonky) lengths.

Week 4

St Paddy’s long weekend – want to make the most of the time.

Day 24 – 17 March – 40 lengths done while kids were in their swimming lessons

Day 25 – 18 March – managed a swim with a hangover – a great cure, I recommend it.

Passed the 8 miles mark.

Day 27 – 40 lengths done and reached almost 9 miles. Really hope to reach the half-way point before I go on holiday to Donegal at Easter.

4 weeks into the challenge and over a third of the distance swam.

Just £33 donations needed to hit my target of £500 for Diabetes UK!

Week 5

Day 28 – reached 9.2 miles.

Day 30 – off to Donegal, with a wetsuit, neoprene hat, socks and gloves packed.  Sadly, they remained dry as the wild Atlantic waves were huge thanks to our lovely Easter weather!

Week 6

Half way there!! 36 lengths completed in a hectic Easter Tuesday pool – seven swimmers in my lane. 11 miles done, 11 to go.

Exactly 6 weeks into the challenge – 6 weeks left to complete the 22 miles


This challenge has helped improve my swimming too. Last year I couldn’t do freestyle & on Friday I did 60 lengths ALL freestyle!!

Swim 22 participants now just have three weeks to go and thanks to everyone who’s sponsored me so far I’ve just exceeded my £500 target.

I’d love it if we could blow the £500 target out of the water (see what I did there?) and I’d be so grateful if you could donate to my JustGiving page.

And as Dory would say, just keep swimming!

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