Gallery: Thousands take plunge at Great East Swim

THOUSANDS of people zipped into their wetsuits and took to the water in the first ever Great East Swim.

ALTON WATER: Thousands of people zipped into their wetsuits and took to the water in the first ever Great East Swim.

More than 1,500 swimmers took the plunge at Alton Water in Stutton for Saturday's event, the last in a four-part series of swims taking place across the UK.

Hopefuls of all ages and abilities mixed with celebrity swimmers in groups of about 200 people at a time, while spectators watched in awe as Olympic champions and world class athletes took on the mile-long challenge.

Swimmers from across the region took part, with one Ipswich man raising money for the RNLI after being rescued after a sailing incident earlier this year.

Ian Johnson, of Dales View Road, said it was the first open water swim he has completed and was pleased with his time of around 35 minutes, helping him raise about �200 for the charity.

Husband and wife duo, Claire and Kevin Blakey of Rushmere St Andrew also took part, with Mrs Blakey, a nurse at Ipswich Hospital, just beating her husband to the finish line.

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Julian Crabtree, a sports journalist and adventurer, successfully completed every wave of every swim in the series, front-crawling a total distance of 44 miles.

The 41-year-old said: “It's been tough but I'm proud of what I have achieved and met some great people over recent weeks.”

In order to complete his challenge, Mr Crabtree had to complete the swims in less than 30 minutes in order to get back to the start line for the next round.

Organiser David Hart said: “Today is not just about the best swimmers in the world, we have people of all shapes and sizes, some of the fastest swimmers in the world and some of the slowest too.”

He said around 7,000 swimmers and spectators had enjoyed the day.

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AMONG the thousands of swimmers was a man who has defied medical odds, overcoming a debilitating head injury to take on the challenge.

Martin Hawkins, of Stewart Young Grove, Kesgrave, was knocked over by a car as he waited to cross Norwich Road in Ipswich in April 1989.

The accident left him in a coma for two months fighting for his life as doctors warned he may never wake up.

After learning to read, write and walk again, swimming became his passion, helping him to recover against the odds.

And on Saturday he completed the Great East Swim in an impressive time of 50 minutes, adding just five minutes to his personal best over the distance in a swimming pool.

With his family standing watching proudly on the shore, the 44-year-old raced around the mile-long course accompanied by his friend Lucy Bowditch.

He said: “I was very pleased with my time. I haven't done anything like this before and never swam in open water.

“Having Lucy stick with me was a big help. I had fun and really enjoyed it, if you can call tiring yourself out fun. I feel like I need a kip today.”

Mum Pat Hawkins added: “I had tears in my eyes. We were so proud. He has been through so much in his life.”