Endurance swimmers are a rare breed, requiring not just physical strength, but also self-belief and positivity. Anna Wardley – owner of PR and event management company Seagrass Communications Ltd and a motivational speaker – has them all. She divides her time between homes in southern England and Mallorca, and is aiming for a place in the record books with the three-stage 215-km Balearic Swim Challenge (Menorca-Mallorca, Mallorca-Ibiza, and Ibiza-Denia), starting this spring.
Forty-year-old Anna has completed more than a dozen endurance swims since starting aged 31. “It all began after I read an article about someone swimming the English Channel.” In 2007, her own first attempt ended a couple of miles from the French coast, when she had to be pulled out of the water and hospitalized for hypothermia, shock, and exhaustion.
Before her 2009 successful second try, she competed in the World Ice Swimming Championships on the Finnish/Russian border, where the air temperature was minus 30 degrees. In preparation, she regularly sat for 30 minutes in a bath full of ice, reading a book. “A BBC TV crew came to film this,” Anna says, laughing at the memory of the cameraman, interviewer, and a professor from Portsmouth University (a specialist in the body’s response to extreme environments) all crammed into her small bathroom.
Anna has swum the tough Gibraltar Strait (2010), around Sa Dragonera, and was the first woman – and first person without a wetsuit – to swim from Cabrera to Sa Ràpita. Her efforts have raised more than £65,000 for charities. The Balearic Swim Challenge is fundraising for three Mallorca-based sea-related causes: Joves Navegants, Marine Inspirations, and Rescate Animales Marinos.
Her endurance swims comply with strict rules: she wears only a regular swimsuit, goggles (fitted with port and starboard lights), and swim hat. Her swimsuit is always high-necked: “A friend had a jellyfish down the front of her costume for half a Channel swim and ended up in a real mess,” she says, pointing out the painful result of one of her own recent jellyfish encounters.
Anna swims solo, with a boat-based support team – with whom she can have no physical contact. In the sea, she eats every 30 minutes and, through trial and error, has devised an appropriate sustenance programme. “Some nutritionists are horrified by what I eat because it’s not conventional sports science,” she says. “But very few people on the planet do what I do, so there isn’t an accepted correct way.”
Her team passes Ziploc bags of food to her in a net. It could be a smoothie, sandwich, well-cooked pasta with olive oil, ginger cake, fresh fruit, or rice pudding with jam. “It’s amazing how exciting it is to eat some lovely fresh mango at two o’clock in the morning in the middle of the ocean.” She flips onto her back, kicking to maintain progress, and “within about 10-12 seconds I can drink and eat, and get going again.”
Anna is looking to cover the costs of the Balearic Swim Challenge through crowdfunding, sponsorship, and the sale of cute logoed plastic ducks. The new Palma Sport & Tennis Club has given her use of their facilities for her six-days-a-week training, which combines swimming in the heated 25-metre outdoor pool, with cardio work and strength-building in the gym and exercise classes. “I couldn’t invent a more ideal place to train,” she says.
After this challenge? “This is the last big one. Definitely,” she says, before admitting she said the same thing after her gruelling Isle of Wight swim in 2013. Her longest swim to date took 26 hours. The second and third stages of the Balearic Swim Challenge are each expected to take 36-40 hours . . . but Anna Wardley will tackle them with her usual positivity.