Two years ago, Kayleigh Davies could hardly swim, now she is overcoming serious illness to tackle the English Channel. Catherine Scott
finds out why.
In just over a week’s time Kayleigh Davies will face one of her biggest challenges when she swims the English Channel.
She will be part of a four-person relay team attempting the crossing to raise money and, more importantly, awareness of prostate cancer.
What makes the 29-year-old from Skipton’s challenge even more remarkable is that up until two years ago Kayleigh could hardly swim. She suffers from an auto-immune condition which means she is in constant pain, as well as making her prone to chest infections.
“I was diagnosed with scarcodosis when I was eight years old,” explains Kayleigh.
“Scarcodosis can affect any part of the body, luckily it just affected my joints. Which means I am in constant pain when I walk or move and my body aches all the time too.”
Although Kayleigh’s condition is under control at the moment she takes a lot of medication to keep her well.
“To many people I look normal and very healthy but due to having scarcodosis and having to take different forms of steroids throughout my life, I developed Addison’s disease.”
This means that Kayleigh doesn’t produce enough natural steroids and so has to take even more medication.
“This makes my life just that little more challenging as now if I pick up a viral infection or a chest infection or any time feel unwell I have to see the doctor to double my steroids so I have a fighting chance to get over it.
“This also affects my daily life as most people can just take cold and flu tablets and over the counter painkillers and things, but I will have to take time off work and just rest. But I just like to get on with life.”
Despite all her challenges, Kayleigh has a part-time job in Skipton where her manager is very understanding of her condition.
Two years ago, she decided she wanted to swim, in particular open water swimming. She enrolled on a course where she met people who encouraged her to fulfil her goal.
She completed the Great North Swim last year, raising £800 for the Alzheimer’s Society and then set her sights on the Channel after meeting fellow members of her relay team, named West Yorkshire Dolphins, including Adrian Hawley from Huddersfield, Mark Seddon from Ilkley and Zobair Hussain from Skipton.
“I couldn’t ask for better people to swim the Channel with as each and every one of them has supported me, especially when I was learning to swim in open water. They would encourage me and kept checking that I was OK, not too cold, just swam by my side until I had the confidence to swim in open water by myself.”
As a warm-up, she took part in the Lake Windermere 5k Race last weekend.
Kayleigh swims every morning before work.
“In the morning when I get up I struggle, so swimming in the morning moves all my joints and muscles without it hurting,” she explains. “Also when I swim I’m just like everyone else, I feel the same, it helps with me mentally and physically.
“It’s also the only time of the day when I can do something without it hurting.”
Kayleigh lives in an adapted bungalow so that she doesn’t have to negotiate steps. But her physical challenges aren’t the only hurdles she has had to overcome to swim the Channel.
“I wouldn’t have got this far if it wasn’t for my family, my parents and my brothers and sisters who are my daily support system.
“I am one of five and my parents have never treated me differently.
“They have always told me to focus on the things I can do rather than the things I can’t. My mother comes to all my hospital appointments and I get encouraged to try new things and set new challenges,” says Kayleigh.
When she was worried about getting medical permission to do the swim it was her mum who encouraged her not to give up.
“She asked and my local doctor said she would support me and provide me with a letter.”
She also helped Kayleigh write to the co-pilot of the boat to see if he would be happy to take her on his boat and let her swim the Channel with her team.
“They were the two biggest challenges I had to fight for to get this far.”
Despite all this, Kayleigh is determined to complete the challenge for the charity Tackle Prostate Cancer after two of her father’s friends were diagnosed with the disease.
She is also organising a ball in Skipton on October 13 and wants to volunteer for the Leeds Support Group of Tackle Prostate Cancer.
“Men are dying daily because they are not routinely checked by GPs for prostate cancer,” she says. “I have personally seen the effects of this devastating disease as it has affected friends and family and believe that it is important that we do everything that we can to fight and ‘tackle’ the illness.
“I wanted to support a small charity that wants to make big differences to people’s lives.”
It is anticipated that swimming the Channel, which is planned for June 20, will take 17-20 hours with each team member swimming for one hour and having three off in the support boat through the night until they reach France.
Roger Woton, chairman of Tackle Prostate Cancer, said: “This is a fantastic challenge Kayleigh has set herself. A true inspiration to others, she deserves all our support.”
Kayleigh added: “I would swim all around the world to make a difference and help raise awareness.”
To sponsor Kayleigh visit www.justgiving.com/ kayleigh-davies6?utm_id=124
Tackle Prostate Cancer is a patient-led charity addressing the real issues people face when they are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and helping people to cope with their diagnosis and treatment. Tackle has 90 support groups across the country, representing some 15,000 members.
Tackle Prostate Cancer recently launched its inaugural national cycling event ‘Cycle to the Moon, Save a Dad’ – a major fundraising initiative that encourages people of all ages to get on their bikes and raise awareness and money for the fight against prostate cancer. The campaign’s target is £250,000 – £1 for every mile between Earth and the Moon.
For more information visit www.tackleprostate.org