Jellyfish stings, great white sharks and gruelling conditions - Tracy’s incredible open-water swimming journey

Open swimmer Tracey Clark, 46, of Thorpe St Andrews who in February swam from Robben Island, the pri

Open swimmer Tracey Clark, 46, of Thorpe St Andrews who in February swam from Robben Island, the prison to Nelson Mandela to Blouberg Beach in Cape Town as well as swimming the English channel. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

She has swum in near-freezing temperatures, been scarred by jellyfish stings and shared Californian waters with great white sharks.

Open swimmer Tracey Clark, 46 of Thorpe St Andrews who in February swam from Robben Island, the pris

Open swimmer Tracey Clark, 46 of Thorpe St Andrews who in February swam from Robben Island, the prison to Nelson Mandela to Blouberg Beach in Cape Town as well as swimming the English channel. She is encouraging other people to take up open swimming. Tracey is pictured at Sea Palling beach where she swims with a group of people on Sunday mornings. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Putting aside a hardy wet-suit for a traditional costume, Thorpe St Andrew woman Tracy Clark has tackled some of the world's most challenging open-water swims, a hobby-turned-career which has seen her raise £16,000 for various charities.

While it began four years ago as an ambitious dream to swim the English Channel, the 46-year-old is now hoping to become just the seventh person in the world to complete Ocean's Seven, a formidable list of the seven most gruelling open-water challenges across the globe, of which three she has already ticked off.

The mother-of-two, who trains each week at Sea Palling, said while she didn't expect the swims to have gone so far, she has proved 'you are never too old to achieve your dreams'.

'I just woke up one morning and started thinking about it,' she said, 'and from then on it grew. I used to swim as a teenager but it was just pool swimming and I was not anything spectacular.

Open swimmer Tracey Clark, 46 of Thorpe St Andrews who in February swam from Robben Island, the pris

Open swimmer Tracey Clark, 46 of Thorpe St Andrews who in February swam from Robben Island, the prison to Nelson Mandela to Blouberg Beach in Cape Town as well as swimming the English channel. She is encouraging other people to take up open swimming. Tracey is pictured at Sea Palling beach where she swims with a group of people on Sunday mornings. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

'I really do believe that you don't know what you are capable of until you push yourself. If someone said to me five years ago that I'd be doing this I would have told them they were crazy.'

In September 2013, after almost 13 hours in the water and having suffered through the last four with a ripped tendon, New Zealand-born Mrs Clark completed the English Channel - and was forced to take 10 months off to let her injury recover.

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But a high tolerance for cold water saw Mrs Clark, who was at the time living in Holland, approached by a coach who asked whether she wanted to swim an ice mile - a 650-metre swim in under 5C water - and, in January last year, she became the first person in the Netherlands to do so.

'I knew that I couldn't do any great distance with my injury so it suited that,' she said. 'It was quite surreal actually, because there was snow on the ground and everybody who was watching on was wrapped up in coats and there were people with jumpsuits in case I became hypothermic.

Tracy Clark with fellow swimmers on the Robben Island swim.

Tracy Clark with fellow swimmers on the Robben Island swim. - Credit: Archant

'Even though it was shorter, it was much harder than the Channel - everything hurts. Your organs begin to hurt.'

Last year Mrs Clark, who moved to Norfolk last August, braved the strong currents of the Gibraltar Strait in June with friend Roger Finch - during which the pair were badly stung by jellyfish.

'We had welts on our feet and I have still got scars,' she said.

Then came the Californian Catalina Channel in September - a night-time 12-hour swim in waters home to great white sharks - before the first of this year's swims in February, which took her from Robben Island - famed for being where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned - to Cape Town in South Africa.

Tracy Clark having just finished the Catalina Strait swim.

Tracy Clark having just finished the Catalina Strait swim. - Credit: Archant

Next up is the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim - a full circle around the island - which will see Mrs Clark earn the open water Triple Crown, which is awarded to swimmers completing the English Channel, Catalina Channel and Manhattan swim.

Reflecting on her journey, Mrs Clark, who now holds talks on her experience, said: 'What really is amazing about this all is the people you meet. It's a sport like no other - everybody is so supportive of each other. It's a wonderful thing to be involved in.

'Sea Palling has become my spiritual training ground. I've even seen a few seals - they'll come up to you and I can feel their whiskers on my toes, which is lovely.'

In October, Mrs Clark and friend Mr Finch will host a Channel swimming camp in Dover.

While she said there no 'magic tricks' to coping with the swim, the five-day camp - to which four Norfolk swimmers have signed up - will offers tips she has picked up along the way.

Do you know someone taking on a sporting challenge? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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