When Beth French was 17 years old, she was in a wheelchair after spending most of her teens bed-ridden, before being diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) – a complex disorder which leaves sufferers with chronic fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and has a serious impact on quality of life.
Now aged 39, the single mum-of-one from Milverton in Somerset is readying to take on the challenge of a lifetime, and is swimming across seven of the world’s channels in just one year – which will be a record-breaking first and has never been attempted anyone before.
“I’m doing this challenge to inspire others and show them that they can do whatever they set their minds to,” Beth tells Lumity Life.
“I’m raising money for Action For ME, and I want to raise awareness and show people who are suffering from the illness at the moment that there is life after a diagnosis and I’m proof that a full recovery is possible.”
Beth’s energy and enthusiasm for everything she sets her mind to is infectious and it is hard to imagine that someone with such a lust for life could once barely get out of bed.
She explains: “When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with glandular fever and I didn’t ever fully recover. I went from being a really sporty, energetic kid to permanently exhausted and often bedridden.
“There was no diagnosis, just test after test that came back negative.
“At 17, I awoke one morning unable to get out of bed. I was in a wheelchair for the better part of a year. Finally, after several changes of doctor I was given a diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and told the only thing to do was rest and do absolutely nothing else but rest. I had to give up education, sport, everything.
“This is not an uncommon tale, even today. But at least it had a name.”
Beth managed to turn such life-shattering news into a positive and, after recovering, went on to travel the globe and even ordained as a Buddhist nun in Thailand – where she learned the discipline of intense meditation:
“Recovering from ME at such an early age was life-changing and liberating – I live without symptoms and spent years regaining trust in my body and my ability to challenge myself,” Beth says.
“In the twenty years since being in that wheelchair, life has been one big adventure.
“I have travelled all over the world and I even ordained as a Buddhist nun whilst in Thailand. Whilst there, I trained intensely in meditation and I relish opportunities like that where I get to challenge myself both physically and mentally.
“Endurance swimming is that – doing one 22 mile channel swim is like 15 years of therapy in one go. You learn so much about yourself and your own strengths, things I might not ever find out if I was sitting at home watching TV, doing the same things day after day and never challenging myself to the hilt.
“In 2012 I swam the English Channel and 4 months later I became the first British woman to swim the Molokai channel in Hawaii. In 2014, I achieved a world first- to swim from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly.
“The relentless nature of ME created the drive I am imbued with that I can survive, the cold water is not as uncomfortable as the ache of fatigue and the dogged nature of recovery allows me to keep going long after good sense and reason dictate I should get out.”
Beth kicks off the first swim in September, when she will be taking on the freezing cold North Channel’s rough seas with unpredictable and often stormy weather during the 22 mile crossing from Ireland to Scotland.
After swimming to Scotland from Ireland, Beth will tackle the 20-mile Catalina Channel in USA, followed by the 26 mile swim across the Molokai Channel, Hawaii.
After that, she will head to the Cook Strait in New Zealand, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Tsugaru Strait off Japan. The epic challenge will come to an end in August 2017 with a second swim for Beth across the English Channel – which she swam once before in 2012.
Beth says: “If you would considering sponsoring me or donating, it would be a huge help. My crowdfunder project is for vital support crew and pilot boat costs without which I would literally be lost at sea! They are my lifeline, keeping me safe and guiding through some of the most treacherous stretches of water on the planet.
“Each of these swims is a major feat in itself. Some have only ever successfully been achieved by a small handful of swimmers. Attempting all seven in a single year will test the limit of what is currently believed physically possible in terms of endurance and recovery. This extraordinary challenge is set to be followed by award winning documentary makers for a cinematic release film showing what it takes to go beyond our limits.”