Joe’s friend René died by suicide aged 22. Joe talks about René and why he’s decided to swim the Channel in his memory to raise funds for Child Bereavement UK and Papyrus.

René was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known and was incredibly intelligent, caring and ambitious. My challenge, Swim4Rene, is about building on some really inspiring work by his family and other friends with previous fundraising events like Run4Rene and Race4Rene, ensuring he has an everlasting legacy.

I wanted to support Child Bereavement UK so that other families can be helped to rebuild their lives and find their future after someone dies.

After René died, I saw the impact it had on his family and it’s always so emotional to speak to them. I'm aware that when families lose a child or sibling it is very hard for them to see any kind of future. I wanted to support Child Bereavement UK so that other families can be helped to rebuild their lives and find their future after someone dies.

I’ll be undertaking a 21-mile solo swim across the Channel on a day between 14-21 August, depending on tide and weather conditions. I will be accompanied by a support team in a boat, comprising my girlfriend Lily, my friend and coach James, and René’s father Max. James, René and I met whilst rowing at the University of Bristol the year before René died.

The Channel is very cold and the regulations of the Channel Swimming Association state that you cannot wear a wetsuit. As a result, you need to gain a lot of fat to insulate you throughout a swim that can take between 8-16 hours - a huge part of my training regime has involved eating as much as I can in order to increase my body fat percentage. Over the past few months I have also been spending increasing amounts of time in the water to gradually acclimatise to the cold temperatures, starting with simply standing in water at 8°c for as long as I could back in March.

And of course, I have done lots of swimming. Since starting training properly, following a hip operation in May, I have been gradually increasing the weekly mileage, building towards the big day. I am now completing 6-hour swims in 15°c and am aiming to spend about 20 hours per week in the water over the next few weeks.

The main thing I have gained from this process is resilience. I have always competed to a high level in sport, but I have never trained for anything as arduous and uncomfortable as swimming the Channel. I was talking to a coach the other day who said, "The Channel is pain". You are cold right from the start and that doesn't change. It is very painful in your shoulders, arms and back basically the entire way and the chafing can be awful. It can also be very challenging and frustrating swimming in rough conditions for long periods. The key thing is to just keep swimming through the discomfort.

My advice to someone thinking about taking on a challenge like a Channel swim is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Do your research and make sure that you’re ready for any eventuality. In my case, the swim could take place in the middle of the night, the conditions could change dramatically, or I could be swimming for significantly longer than I planned. I’ve done night swims, acclimatised to cold water as much as I can and haven’t avoided training in bad weather as I won’t be able to avoid it on the day! 

Make sure you assemble a team of people that you really trust and that know you incredibly well. Whilst this is referred to as a 'solo' swim, it is 100% a team event. Without the team I have around me, it would be impossible.

Basically, I am attempting something a bit crazy in the hope that it will get people talking about bereavement and death by suicide, encouraging them to reach out for help and support if they need it.

If you have been inspired to take on a challenge for us, please visit our challenge events page, contact our fundraising team on [email protected] or call us on 01494 569048.