When Steyning’s Sarah Cotton plunged 50ft from the Shoreham Flyover in 1997, she feared would never walk again after breaking ‘nearly everything from the waist down’.
But the 52-year-old former firefighter refused to accept her fate and after three months in hospital, countless hours of rehabilitation and 22 years of dedication she is preparing to swim the English Channel in an extraordinary reversal of fortunes.
Although she was forced to retire from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, she has credited a positive mentality with getting herself back on track.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself, I think I am extremely lucky,” she said.
“I didn’t die, I am walking again, and life goes on. I lost my career, which was upsetting, but when you come so close to death, you get a different outlook on life. I don’t take anything for granted.”
Sarah said she used to complete triathlons, but was forced to give them up as ankle surgery left her unable to run.
Her love for swimming remained – she would even take to the water with her plaster casts on – and 13 years ago she began swimming at Shoreham Beach.
She described swimming as ‘everything’ and said it was important in regaining her independence and making her feel ‘normal’ again.
Swims became gradually longer, including laps of Lake Windermere and a 12.5 mile swim around Key West in Florida, before a fellow swimmer inspired her to tackle the Channel.
Her 35km, 14-hour marathon is planned for the week of June 22, with all money raised going towards Blind Dog Rescue UK.
Weather depending, she will set off from Dover, either Samphire Hoe or Shakespeare Beach, and swim to a headland called Cap Gris Nez.
Last weekend she swam to the Rampion Wind Farm and back as part of her training, with the aim being to swim around 40km a week in the six months leading up to the swim.
Not surprisingly, such an epic journey requires mammoth amounts of fuel. Sarah will have to take on around 700 calories an hour for her swim, totalling just under 10,000 calories.
A boat will accompany her along the busy shipping route, passing food to her on the end of a fishing line.
Physical exertion aside, she said much of the preparation becomes about controlling the mind, rather than the body.
“I think about the pain I have gone through to get here and I think about why I am doing the swim,” she said. “But sometimes I will just count my strokes.”