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Tessa achieves her Channel Dream

Ever wondered how it feels to swim for 10 hours straight?

Inspirational Royal North Shore Hospital ICU Specialist doctor Tessa Garside now knows, having recently completed a long-held dream of swimming the English Channel.

About 300 people take on the 35-kilometre swim every year, but only around one in five manage to complete it.

“I think it’s the happiest I have ever been,” Dr Garside said. “I just thought, ‘oh my God, I have done it’.

“It’s a special feeling of achievement.” 

The 34-year-old former triathlete and experienced ocean swimmer was originally due to undertake the swim in 2020 prior to the pandemic.

After undergoing an intensive six-day per week training regime at Sydney beaches, Dr Garside travelled to the English port of Dover for the swim.

“There’s only a small window of time when you can swim, but you don’t know when exactly,” Dr Garside said. “I was called at 7pm on Sunday night telling me to be at the marina at 2.15am the next morning to set off.

“I got ready as we drove from the port of Dover to the start at Samphire Hoe. All of a sudden we were under the white cliffs and it was time to start. I was so focused and excited.”

I think it's the happiest I have ever been. I just thought, 'oh my God, I have done it'.

Setting off in “pitch black” conditions and 16 degree waters, Tessa was accompanied on a nearby boat by her support team including a swimming coach and two skippers to monitor her safety and provide valuable supplies.

“It's the busiest shipping lane in the world with notoriously big tides so you really rely on the experience of the skippers for the crossing,” she said.

Swimming alongside the boat to ensure her safety as the sun came up, Dr Garside had to dodge jellyfish and battle strong currents which extended the swim to about 50 kilometres.

“The sunrise lasted for hours and was so beautiful,” Dr Garside said. “The boats looked incredibly huge close up as well.

“Every 30 minutes I was being thrown a drink bottle or energy gel, so I just broke the swim down like that.

“At the eight-hour mark I was thinking, ‘wow, this is long’ but I kept thinking how lucky I was to be doing it. That’s what got me through."

After finishing her swim in France after a shade more than 10 hours, an “exhausted but elated” Dr Garside travelled back by boat back to Dover, where she had her name added to a list of English Channel swimmers in a local pub.

Returning to Australia after a well-earned European holiday, Dr Garside is eyeing her next challenge – swimming around New York’s Manhattan Island.

“I’ve always been a goal-orientated person,” she said.  “That’s what helped me keep getting up at 4am for training.

“It’s a special honour (and) so exciting.”

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