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An Interview with...Beth French

Before her Going Beyond talk in March, we caught up with open water endurance swimmer, Beth French.

Finding refuge in open water endurance swimmer Beth French was the first person to swim 26 miles from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. Beth’s journey through debilitating ill health has defined her life and compelled her to pursue her dreams. Her philosophy is that life is all about exploring the art of possibility to fulfil your potential. Passionate about our inherent ability to go beyond our preconceived boundaries her story is something that everyone can relate to.

This is what she had to say:

1. What are your top 3 places in the world?

1. Kealekekua bay in Hawaii – it’s a marine reserve and just beautiful.
2. The island of Hawaii in general
3. Isle of Scilly – people think they are back in time there, but I think they have just dropped things that are not important.

2. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve slept?

As a birthday present, I asked friends to drop me on a beach in Hawaii and leave me there for the night, so I could spend the night on the beach on my own.

3. What’s the one thing you wouldn't go on a long swim without?

Ovaltine, amazing what a sachet of Ovaltine and some hot water can do when you are emotionally drained.

4. Do you have any good advice for our young people or volunteers going on their first camp?

It is important to remember that everyone starts from the same place. It is likely that most people are nervous, even the grownups will be scared or anxious about something. It’s ok to be nervous. The best thing you can do is take a deep breath and talk to other people about it, as you’ll realise, everyone is feeling the same way.

5. Who was your role model growing up?

When I was going growing up, Martina Navratilova was my role model, she is a left handed tennis player, (and I am left-handed) who was considered not very feminine, she played liked a man, she was so strong, and she taught me to not be afraid of being different, and doing your own thing in your own style.

6. How did you get into swimming – what was your first big swim?

I don’t remember a time that I didn’t feel compelled into getting into water, I grew up in a time when there wasn’t any digital cameras, so there are not many photos of me, but any photos that we do have I seem to be surrounded by water, for example, a picture of me in a bucket of water. I was that toddler that went running into the water as soon as we got to the beach.

My first big swim was the English Channel, before that I hadn’t really done anything big, I used to go swimming for seven hours straight on my days off, but that was just for fun.

7. What’s your greatest achievement?

It has to be getting back home after swimming the English Channel in time to put Dylan to bed. He was 3. It made me realise I can do both, I can be a swimmer and a mother.

8. What has been the hardest thing you've had to overcome and how did you do it?

Two things have been the hardest to overcome, but they are interlinked. Being in a wheelchair when I was 17 with ME, overcoming all the obstacles that having ill health put in my way, it completely changed my life. 

The second is letting go of my last project, knowing I could do it physically, but knowing it was the right thing to stop and having to let go of the challenge. Disappointing everyone was the hardest thing to do. I was able to do it, to let go, by knowing that I was right, I knew it was the right thing for me and I had to listen to that.

9. What would be your advice to young people to overcome adversity?
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Focus on the stuff you can do, not what you can't do.

10. Do you have any funny moments from a swim you could share?

I was doing the world first record series, and it was being filmed by a documentary crew. I woke up on the morning of the swim and felt a bit ill, but thought it might just be jet lag, then I felt a bit worse throughout the day, it got to the swim in the evening and I just had no energy and felt pretty rough. Then 3 hours into swim, I started vomiting and had diarrhoea, but I just kept going, it turned a swim that should have taken 10 hours into 19 hours, but I knew I just had to keep swimming, all the while I was being filmed for this documentary!

11. What would be your top tip for people embarking on an adventure or a challenge?

Approach it like play. Childhood curiosity, give yourself no pressure and just explore everything about the experience; the world around it, your reaction to it and not to just focus on the end point. Don’t ever forget the reasons why you’re doing it and really enjoy the experience of doing it.

12. What is your favourite expedition snack?

A recipe I have concocted; Malted chocolate coconut fudge brownie.

11. A question we often end up discussing on camp is…cake or cheese?

I prefer cheese, but on expedition it would be cake.

12. Can you nominate someone inspiring for us to interview next?

Deb Criddle – at 28 run she was run over by a lorry, and lost her right arm, now she has won three gold medals in the Paralympics for horse riding.
Jo Bradshaw – is a mountaineer
Erin Bastien – is a kayaker


Come along to our Going Beyond Talk in Bristol on 13th March to find out more about Beth's adventures or visit her website:



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