Henley Classic Swim, which challenges swimmers to swim the 2.1km Henley Regatta Course took place in the early hours of Sunday morning. 620 swimmers finished the upstream challenging course. With swimmers travelling from all over the UK to complete this iconic challenge, Henley had it’s own Wonder Woman, Sarah Astbury completing the course for the first time.
Sarah started swimming in the river last November 2020 and has swum most days since, with water temperatures varying from minus 0.2 degrees up to about 17 degrees centigrade now. Sarah explains, “It has benefitted my mental and physical health more than I ever imagined it could. Once I was confident I signed up for a few events, the first being the most brutal – the Henley Classic. I knew it was tough, I watched my brother do it years ago, he’s a very proficient swimmer, but I remember how challenging it was.”
Training with a small group of friends (Ilana Carr, Elaine Masters, Janet Williams and Catherine Mattingly) in the river and at Caversham Lake most days, they named themselves the Brr-maids. Sarah said, “Two of the ladies have done The Classic before and shared their pearls of wisdom with us. We decided to set up a fundraising page called Super Women for Refuge. Refuge is an amazing charity supporting women and children who are victims of domestic violence. The number of cases they deal with spiked dramatically during lockdown and we all agreed it was a very deserving cause.” Brr-maids have raised over £500 for Refuge.
The course was particularly challenging this year with the current much faster than previous years. The women’s winner, Vicky Cunningham who won in 2019 completed the course in 29:34, was 2 minutes slower this year in 31:32. Several swimmers didn’t complete the course because of the strong current and were seen waiting for the safety boats.
Juliet Hume from Henley Swim said, “After the disappointment of cancelling the Henley Classic in 2020, it was amazing to see swimmers willing to get up in the middle of the night to come and swim in the Thames. There was a strong current, with many swimmers reporting slower times than previous years, but the atmosphere was incredible – full of anticipation before the swim, and pride afterwards. Henley Swim regular Greg Whyte was swimming with a team of seven swimmers raising money for our partner charity Starlight Children’s Foundation. They have raised over £8,000 between them and the total continues to rise.”
After completing the course, with an early start of 4.30am, Sarah commented, “The swim itself was great – we’re not used to sharing the river so we were careful to stay out of the way of the speedy swimmers! The last 500 metres we really felt, arms aching, hips and knees starting to complain – but the church was getting closer and closer in view and we just kept swimming! I think we’d all like to do it again – despite the 3am alarm call. It’s a tremendous event, brilliantly organised.”
Sarah now plans to swim a mile at the Henley Swim Festival on 11 July and will be raising money for Teenage Cancer Trust. You can sponsor her by going to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarahswims