Messages of support from around the world – and a regular supply of Percy Pig sweets – kept endurance swimmer Anna Wardley on course for an epic swim on Saturday.
Anna, 37, took 26 hours 33min 28sec to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight: three hours less than the 30 hours predicted for the 60-mile marathon.
She is only the fourth person to achieve the feat – and one of just nine British members of the 24 Hour Club, for those who complete swims lasting more than a day.
Sheffield-born Anna was greeted by cheering spectators as she touched Ryde Pier, marking the end of her swim, just after midday.
Exhausted, she climbed from the water to be greeted by her team and mum Barbara, of Bradfield, who had been with her all the way, on one of the fleet of support boats.
The swim completes a five-island challenge for Anna. It also smashes the target of £50,000 for her three charities: Samaritans, Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust and Sail Africa.
Anna embarked on the challenge last May, swimming six miles around Dragonera, off Mallorca. She followed that with Portsea Island (13 miles) and Jersey (41 miles).
Next was the Hebridean Isle of Tiree, which no-one had ever conquered. But with cold water temperatures and shoals of jellyfish, she was forced to call off her bid after 16 hours and 22 miles – eight short of her goal.
The Isle of Wight swim was less treacherous, but needed tremendous stamina, burning around 25,000 during the 60-mile marathon.
Anna’s core temperature was monitored throughout via a high-tech pill which sent a radio signal to scientists on the support fleet. She was fed a cocktail of high energy, easy-to-swallow foods including rice pudding, pasta, bananas and Percy Pig sweets.
The low point came 15 hours into the swim, at 1am, when the tide pushed her back two miles and she began hallucinating.
“Knowing the onset of hypothermia set off alarm bells. But in my mind my only option was to keep going,” she said.
Official observer Kevin Murphy, the first to complete the feat in 1971, praised Anna’s determination: “It was an epic swim, an inspiration to watch, and a marvellous achievement,” he said.
Anna celebrated with her mum – on a plane trip around the island, to see the extent of her triumph.
For now, she is settling back into routine: “No more challenges for me at the moment.
“I’m looking forward to having a good rest… and I can look across at the Isle of Wight knowing that I’ve swum round it, rather than thinking I’ve got to swim round it as I have done for the last two years.”