NHS physiotherapist conquers the world's toughest sea swim

Thursday 15 August 2019

Samantha Poulsen

A physiotherapist from Guy’s and St Thomas’ has conquered one of the world’s toughest sea swims, less than a year after swimming across the English Channel.

Samantha Poulsen, from Tower Hamlets in east London, is the 25th woman to successfully make it across the North Channel.

She completed the gruelling 21-mile swim from Donaghadee in Northern Ireland to Portpatrick in Scotland in 11 hours and 12 minutes.

It is considered to be the most difficult open water swim in the world due to its cold waters, strong currents and high numbers of lion’s mane jellyfish.

Samantha, who is originally from Perth in Australia, is a respiratory physiotherapist in the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital so decided to take on the challenge to raise money for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

She said: “I work with critically unwell patients, people whose lives have been turned upside down by sickness. The staff that work in the NHS really are something else. They put their hearts and souls into the work they do and I’m inspired by them on a daily basis.”

Since 1947 there have only been 92 successful swims across the North Channel – 67 solos and 25 relays.

Samantha, 28, said: “Although I was really lucky with the weather and the sun was shining, I found it much harder than the English Channel because the water was so cold.

“I never usually struggle to stay positive during long-distance swims, but after four hours I felt really tired and at some points I didn’t think I was going to make it.

“The water temperature was around 13 degrees so I tried to prepare by only taking cold showers in the six months leading up to the swim. It definitely helped but on the day the cold was unrelenting and debilitating so it became a real mental challenge. I kept going because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.”

To pass the time Samantha decided to count the number of lion’s mane jellyfish, but after seeing 70 in the first 90 minutes she gave up.

Samantha said: “The jellyfish were horrible and the size of dinner plates. I was stung about eight times, which felt like a burning sensation, and my forearm and hands got the worst of it because I couldn’t always see the tentacles.”

She was also battling an old shoulder injury, after tearing her rotator cuff during the English Channel swim in September 2018, which she completed in 12 hours and 40 minutes.

Samantha said: “Last year I thought my long-distance swimming was going to be over, but luckily I managed to start swimming again in March. My shoulder started to hurt after around four hours, which was really worrying but I was able to keep going.”

Her mum, Emmy, travelled from Australia to support her and was on the boat with her housemate, Ryan Shoesmith, cheering her on.

Samantha said: “When I was less than a mile from the end my mum jumped in and swam beside me. It was a really special and unforgettable experience to share with her. When we reached the rocks we hugged and cried, it was amazing.”

She added: “I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved. People think I’m mad but I don’t see it like that because I feel lucky to have found something that brings me so much joy. Life can sometimes throw you some serious curveballs so I’m grateful for my health. I encourage everyone to go out there and live life as best you can and try and do a little good along the way.”

So far Samantha has raised more than £2,100 for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, which funds big things and small touches that make our life-saving care even better and help our patients and their families feel really looked after.

You can support Samantha’s fundraising on her Virgin Money Giving page and there is more information about fundraising for Guy’s and St Thomas’ on the Guy's and St Thomas' Charity website.

Last updated: August 2019

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