Simon Connolly has added his name to the list of less than 70 people who have successfully swam from one end of the Scottish Loch to another, while raising more than £10,500 for CLIC Sargent.
Simon completed the swim, the equivalent of 1,540 lengths of a regular swimming pool, at around 9pm on Monday 18 September. All of the money raised will help CLIC Sargent support young cancer patients and their families.
The victorious swim caps off months of training and fundraising, which Simon, a firefighter at Manchester Airport, said had basically taken over his life.
“I honestly can’t believe I’ve done it,” he said.
“There were definitely some dark moments in the water when I thought that I wouldn’t be able to complete it.
"You think about packing it in, but then it’s just a case of carrying on, stroke by stroke.”
Due to the fact that the swim would take so long, Simon had to enter the water in the middle of the night, in order to maximize his daylight time in the water.
He said: “It was a very strange experience swimming it total darkness, it was like swimming into a black hole, It was a daunting start to the whole thing.”
Throughout the swim, Simon was accompanied by a support boat, which held some of his family and friends. At regular points, they would provide him with food and drink in the water, as he burned over 10,000 calories.
However, at mile 11, things took a turn for the worse and Simon felt ill and started vomiting. “That was the hardest time,” he said. “I just couldn’t stop being sick, and I was floating in the water, feeling ill and thinking everything was all over.”
But Simon pushed on and started to feel better, deciding to swim the remaining 13 miles without taking on any extra food. The final 2 miles were completed in total darkness, ending the swim in the same way as it started.
“When I got close to the finish I could see lights in the distance but it just seemed like it wasn’t getting any closer. To spend that long in the water is a very strange experience. Your mind wanders and you are almost delirious and very emotional.”
CLIC Sargent is the official partner of the Manchester Airports Group, but Simon was particularly inspired to support it after losing his brother John to cancer in 2016.
He said: “John was 58 when we lost him to cancer and things happened very quickly. It really makes you realise how quickly your whole life can change. I can’t imagine how devastating a diagnosis of cancer could be for a child or a young person so I think it’s really important they get that support.
“While I was in the water I kept thinking about the children the charity supports and the young patients fighting through chemotherapy and ringing the bell on their ward when they have finished their treatment. I just thought to myself, if these kids can get through something like that, who am I to complain about this."
Rachel Kirby-Rider, Director of Income and Engagement at CLIC Sargent, said: “Wow – what an incredible achievement.
"We are absolutely blown away by Simon’s hard work and dedication to helping us fight for young lives struck by cancer.
“This has really been an inspirational challenge, which would have pushed him to the absolute limit. Every penny raised will help us be there for these young cancer patients right from the point of diagnosis and we really can’t thank him enough.”
Rad Taylor, Operations Director for Manchester Airport, said: "Everyone at the airport would like to congratulate Simon on his fantastic achievement. It's an incredible feat for an incredible cause and we're sure the money raised will be put to good use by CLIC Sargent."
Simon was supported on the challenge by the company Swim4Miles, and was sponsored by Terberg DTS.
In 2015, staff of Manchester Airports Group, the UK’s largest UK-owned airport operator, chose CLIC Sargent as its official charity partner. The group hopes to raise £1 million to help the charity support young cancer patients through a range of services, including social workers, nurse specialist financial grants and free accommodation near hospitals.
To sponsor Simon, visit his official JustGiving page.