Catz student selected for Cross Channel Relay Competition

Friday 28 May 2021

St Catharine’s undergraduate Matthew Penner (2019, Natural Sciences) has been selected to represent the University of Cambridge in the next Cross Channel Relay Competition against the University of Oxford – the only university swimming race across the Channel. This year’s competition is scheduled to take place 24–28 June 2021, with the final race day selected based on forecast weather conditions.

The first ever Varsity Relay Channel Swim was in 1998, and teams have raced between Dover and France every two years (the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the 2020 event until this year). Oxford has won six times, Cambridge has won three times and there has been two draws (the first team onto the beach in France wins unless the final times are within 2 minutes).

As a member of Cambridge’s open water swimming team, Matthew will compete as part of a mixed squad of eight swimmers: six will swim on the day plus two reserve swimmers. The total course is approximately 22 miles long and will take between 8 and 12 hours to complete depending on conditions, with one team member in the water for an hour before they hand over to the next swimmer.

Matthew explains, “The relay race will be unlike anything I’ve been a part of before and will be a unique way to test my own limits. There are strictly no wet suits so the day will be physiologically and psychologically gruelling. The sea is also colder than it was this time last year so I am preparing with three or four cold water sessions a week on top of regular visits to the indoor pool.”

Pictured: Matthew Penner (second from the right) with the rest of Cambridge's open water swimming team.  

Matthew’s introduction to open water swimming came about after the pandemic closed swimming facilities in Cambridge:

“I was a keen pool swimmer when I was much younger and only started swimming again when I arrived at Catz. During the first national lockdown, the indoor pools in Cambridge were closed so I tried my hand at swimming in the Cam last summer – and I haven’t looked back.

“Of course, the Channel will be very different to my experience of rivers and lakes, with extra challenges like jelly fish to overcome. Our team is fortunate to have a boat captain with a wealth of knowledge about the tides and currents, who will help to keep us safe and on course. I can’t wait to step onto the beach in France, even if current travel restrictions mean we have to head straight back to the UK!”

The Cambridge squad is fundraising for two causes this year: Cancer Research UK in memory of one of the founders Nick Thomas who passed away in 2016, and the Marine Conservation Society. Visit the Just Giving page.