Thousands take plunge in charity swim

MORE than 1,500 people took to the open water at a Suffolk beauty spot for the county's biggest charity swim.

Elliot Furniss

MORE than 1,500 people are taking to the open water today at a Suffolk beauty spot for the county's biggest charity swim.

Competitors will be at Alton Water for the first ever Great East Swim, part of a series of events taking place across the UK sponsored by British Gas.

Thousands of hopefuls as well as some well-known swimmers have taken on the one-mile challenge in both elite and charity races taking place throughout today.

Organisers this morning said the event, the first of its kind, was going really well with exciting plans for the future of the event.

David Hart, part of the team organising the swim series, said: “We are really pleased, it is great to see a mass participation swimming event.

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“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.”

The varied field of swimmers includes celebrities such as Ireland's greatest ever long distance runner, Sonia O'Sullivan, and Maxwell Caulfield, who plays Mark Wylde in Emmerdale.

Also taking part are Northgate High School student Jack Payne, the youngest swimmer in the field, and Lee Menday, a teacher at The Royal Hospital School, who had his lower left leg amputated four years ago and used swimming as a major part of his rehabilitation.

Colin Hill, event director said the vision for the day was to inspire people into trying outdoor swimming for the first time as well as having the world's best competing in the same event.

He said: “The swims provide a great opportunity to set oneself a challenge, get together a group of friends or colleagues to participate or to raise money for charity.

“Whatever the reasons for taking part, the bottom line is all about inspiration and enjoyment.”

Several of the world's Olympic heroes will be fighting for the title in the elite swims, including Russia's Olympic 10km open-water champion Larisa Ilchenko, Great Britain's World champion Keri Anne Payne and Olympic bronze 10km open-water medallist, Cassie Patten.

Tom Allen, 17, of Great Britain and Britta Kamrau of Germany were first pass the finishing line in the men and women's elite races.

The inaugural event has been secured through a partnership with Suffolk County Council and Rosemary Clark, head of sport, culture, diversity, health and wellbeing, said it would create a “lasting legacy” for the county.

She said: “The council is delighted to be supporting and promoting the British Gas Great East Swim and is looking forward to welcoming all swimmers to our beautiful county.

“An event like this provides a unique opportunity to inspire people to take up more physical activity and lead healthier lifestyles which will contribute directly to our ambition to make Suffolk the healthiest county by 2028.”

Waves of approximately 200 swimmers entered the water from 9am onwards, with the elite races going on from 12pm.

Spectators are encouraged to come down and cheer on the participants and enjoy the many different activities on offer including a farmers' market, bandstand, hot tub, food hall, and climbing wall.