EVERY year at the end of June, hundreds of people gather in Henley at dawn to swim one of the most beautiful stretches of the River Thames – this year, I was one of them.

I joined an enthusiastic group of open water swimmers as part of the Selkie Henley Classic, a celebration of midsummer that involves swimming 2.1K upstream from Temple Island Meadows up to just before Henley Bridge.

I arrived with a friend at the meadows just after 3am, in almost complete darkness, and the setting was as magical as I expected, with mist rising from the water and dozens of people already in their wetsuits, waiting to set off.

 

 

I learnt how to swim when I was five, in a swimming pool in Rome, where I spent most of my afternoons training with my team up until the age of 17.  

I’ve been swimming my whole life, competitively at some point too, so 2K did not seem like an impossible distance to conquer.

But I had never swum in a river before and I was concerned about the water temperature and swimming in a wetsuit, which I knew could be quite restrictive.

At around 4am, we walked about a quarter of a mile from the gathering point to the start line for the swim, but we had to wait almost an hour to get into the water as the mist was too heavy for us to be able to swim in the river safely.

The wait was excruciating and organisers said they didn’t know if the event could go ahead at all. It was a relief to finally get into the water at around 5.20am, where the temperature was about 20 degrees.

I swam at my own pace, taking in the scenery and the liberating feeling of swimming in open water. At the end of the swim, I felt invincible and it’s something I would recommend to anyone.

 

 

What made Henley Classic special for me wasn’t just the breath-taking location and the weird sense of comradery you share with the other swimmers as you get in the water at the same time.

What made it special was being able to raise money for a wonderful charity.

Starlight supports children and their family by giving them tools to manage anxiety and isolation when they need it most. 

They use the power of play to create a sense of escape from the difficult reality in which these children find themselves and last year they helped more than 1.2 million children in almost 500 hospitals across the UK.

They also support their siblings and parents by funding family breaks and away days, giving them a chance to make comforting, life lasting memories together, no matter what the future may bring. 

You can donate here. 

Learn more about Starlight here

Join next year’s Henley Classic here

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This story was written by Anna Colivicchi, she joined the team this year and covers health stories for the Oxfordshire papers. 

Get in touch with her by emailing: Anna.colivicchi@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @AnnaColivicchi