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Andrew is a role model for positivity in the face of adversity after his charity Channel swim is cut short in the last few miles

05 August 2020

After swimming the English Channel for a gruelling 15 hours and 34 minutes Andrew Butler spotted the signal he never wanted to see – his boat pilot telling him to stop immediately.

Andrew had drifted too close to the ferry channels near the French port of Calais and for his own safety had no choice but to get in his support boat and go home.

Andrew Butler
Andrew Butler preparing to swim the English Channel

The English Channel is a complex challenge, having to swim across tides as they change. The pilots plot the route according to tides, weather window and swimmers pace, with  uncontrollable variables.

During Andrew’s swim, one of the tides ran at two knots instead of three, the winds were not forecasted to pick up, resulting in swimming against chop and an old shoulder injury was aggravated, resulting in losing power. These variables prevented Andrew from being pushed away from the Calais approaches.

For some, two and a half years of training for a swim abruptly ending within sight of French shores, would drop them into deep disappointment or worse, depression.

Rosie and Henry Butler
Rosie and Henry Butler

The power of positivity

But for mental health nurse Andrew, inspired to fundraise by his three-year-old granddaughter Rosie, he knows only too well the power of staying positive in the face of adversity.

“I have seen the struggles of my granddaughter Rosie who is waiting for a kidney transplant from my son Luke. Through my work as a mental health nurse and through our family life I know that the biggest part of staying positive for life is learning to change how we react to difficult and traumatic situations, which often can be easier said than done” he said.

“So, while it may not be ideal that the challenge was stopped, I remain positive that I was able to fund and have this incredible opportunity in the first place, thankful for the overwhelming support and encouragement and the fact I enjoyed an incredible experience, one day I will return to touch France.”


Andrew’s swim has raised in excess of £7,400 for Kidney Research UK and other charities including the North Devon Wave project which teaches young people in difficult circumstances how to surf. The project has achieved outstanding results of helping young people feel more positive about their lives.

“Young people need sound role models,” he said. “I am passionate about this so I hope I can show that by staying upbeat in the face of adversity, it gives a good message.”

Facing adversity

Andrew’s training was brutally disrupted during March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with swimming pools closed, the RNLI advising not to swim in the sea as it would encourage others less competent. In typical fashion, Andrew swiftly adapted, carrying out his training whilst tethered in his own pop-up pool including a 12-hour mile on the hour challenge, which boosted donations. Later his pilot moved all June 2020 swims to June 2021. However, he was finally able to swim through the night for his Channel challenge in July, parking his pain when a shoulder injury flared up and carrying on into the following day, only to be stopped when he got too close to the Calais ferry approaches.

He said: "This swim didn't end how I'd visualised it, however this year hasn’t been how I planned it. You adapt and take responsibility for your decisions.

"I enjoyed the majority of it, the challenge of night swimming; sleep deprivation, the jellyfish stings reminding me it's their home! I was aware my pace had dropped and when told we were close to the Calais ferry lane, I knew it was time to dig deep. When my pilot appeared the second time, I knew what was on the cards - time to accept the call.”

Rosie, Andrew's inspiration

His swim was inspired by little Rosie, his full-of-smiles granddaughter who was born with a life-threatening condition needing specialist treatment at Bristol Hospital for Children. Rosie had both kidneys removed within 10 weeks of being born to keep her alive.

Since then she has endured numerous operations and treatments, in and out of intensive care.

“To witness people whom you love, endure trauma, the initial chaos it causes to their world is never easy. Since being home my son Luke and Hannah his wife have adapted to a whole new world of administering dialysis and several other medical procedures, as well as allowing support networks to be part of their world.

“I will never forget the fears, the numbness, the shell-shocked conversations I had with my son driving to Bristol considering questions to ask, that no parent would want to consider, let alone have discussions on.

Rosie Butler and her mum Hannah
Rosie Butler and her mum Hannah

Luke, Hannah and Henry have had to adapt, face the brutal challenges thrust upon them learning to live with uncertainty, relentless telephone calls and unplanned two-hour journeys, to Bristol hospital in response to Rosie’s condition becoming life threatening. This is only touching the surface. What is alien to most people, is their normality.

“My swim ending early is nothing compared to this. We are hopeful Rosie will have a kidney transplant from her dad Luke in the coming months.

“People who know my son and daughter in law, will be aware they are incredible parents, who have become my heroes. Along with their son Henry, they are such a special family and every day I feel lucky, despite challenges that we continue to overcome.”

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