Winnersh woman’s epic cross Channel swim honour’s late sister on what would have been her birthday

Winnersh hayley brant british heart foundation
Hayley Brant celebrates a successful swim across the English channel

A Winnersh woman took the plunge and swam solo across the English Channel in July.

Hayley Brant, 49, has always been a swimmer, but on Tuesday, July 23, she tackled the swimming equivalent of climbing Mount Everest in just 18 hours and 39 minutes.

Mrs Brant said: “Without question, this was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done!”

She is only the 1,988 person ever to swim across the channel and raised £7,700 for the British Heart Foundation.

An executive assistant for the software company Tanium, Mrs Brant booked the swim two years ago. She had just swum the English Channel for the first time, but on that occasion in a joint effort with her sister Helen Smith.

Both sisters started swimming in 2011, in memory of their youngest sister Heather, who died suddenly in 2009 at the young age of 36 from a previously undiagnosed cardiac condition, cardiomyopathy. 

Mrs Brant explained: “Swimming was always something we all did together. Unexpectedly, swimming became a coping mechanism. You could go to the pool and cry and no one would know.” 

The thought of her sister kept her going as she conquered the choppy waters last month, when swimmers are not permitted to stop or touch any other human beings, or even the boat, during their swims.

Celebrations at the finish line

The swimmer said: “The one motivator for me was that I was swimming on the Tuesday, and my sister Heather’s birthday was the following Saturday – July 27. I wanted to step on the beach, get my whistle and be able to say ‘I am a channel swimmer’ on her birthday.”

Mrs Brant said it was a real shame there was not much wildlife to see during her swim. “No fish, no turtles. It’s a rare sight now.”

She did swim through “beautiful” pods of jellyfish and said you do get stung, but “you get used to the pain”.

When Mrs Brant landed on France’s Wissant bay, on a “beautifully sandy beach”, she was welcomed by sunbathers. One person even ran over to her with a glass of rose wine.

“It was incredible to be welcomed on the beach by people who didn’t know me.”

It was a significant decision for Mrs Brant to try swimming solo.

“It was really hard to break and do something different [without my sister], but she was completely supportive. But, as I swam across the channel, she was on the boat. She was part of the crew and Helen will be swimming in the Loch Ness next year. I know she will smash it.”

She’s unsure which swimming challenge she will take on next.

But, the channel swimmer also issued a warning about the dangers of open water swimming. 

“There are a lot of clubs out there and I always recommend you hook up with them rather than take the risk and start jumping in on your own,” she said

Mrs Brant suggested that anyone wanting to start open water swimming could join Henley Open Water Swimming Club. For more details, log on to

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