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Civic honour for Channel swim hero; Reward for Eileen on 60th anniversary.


IT was a stunning achievement - and still is.

Now, 60 years after local teacher Eileen Fenton conquered the freezing waters of the English Channel, a civic reception will be held to mark her terrific achievement.

Sunday is the diamond anniversary of Eileen's achievement and coincides with the official re-opening of the newly-refurbished Dewsbury Museum.

A specially-commissioned portrait of guest-of-honour Eileen Fenton will be unveiled and hung in the brand new gallery.

The event will be hosted by the Mayor and Mayoress of Kirklees, Clr Andrew Palfreeman and his wife Liz.

It was in 1950 that Dewsbury teacher Eileen Fenton took up the extreme challenge of competing in the Daily Mail's first International Channel Race.

She was just 22 when she tackled one of the greatest and most formidable sporting challenges, swimming the English Channel.

She was one of just nine swimmers out of 24 to make it across the difficult stretch of water in the Daily Mail's first International Channel Race.

Eileen, who was once the chief swimming coach for Yorkshire, finished in sixth place, but scooped the pounds 1,000 prize for being the first woman in the race to reach England's shores.

She later recalled that she couldn't remember a time when she couldn't swim and that she had swum her first full length by the age of two.

After early success in local swimming competitions and completing a tough swim of Morecambe Bay at the age of 19, Eileen decided to enter the Channel race.

After initially being told by the organisers that she was not big enough to compete, she proved that she was up to the challenge by completing gruelling, freezing cold swims in the sea off Scarborough.

She said of her Channel swim: "It was pitch black and very cold. We could see nothing but the light on the boat we needed to follow.

"When I got to nine hours I could see Dover harbour, but my arm stopped working and I had to do a front crawl with one hand.

"I was too weak to get over the tide and I was pushed back by the current. It took me over six hours."

Invited guests on Sunday include the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Kirklees, Clr Eric Firth and his wife Janet.

Members of Eileen's family will be attending as well as local groups including the Dewsbury Rotary Club. The event includes an introduction by Kirklees Museums and Galleries manager Richard Butterfield.

A speech will be given by the Mayor, and there will be a response from Eileen Fenton.

Between 20 and 30 swimmers a year are successful in making the crossing of the English Channel, which is about 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.

Channel swims . August 25, 1875, Captain Matthew Webb (27 years old) was the first male to swim the channel. Time: 21 hours 45 mins.

. August 23 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the channel creating the record time of 14 hours, 39 mins.

. August 25, 2007, Petar Stoychev from Bulgaria set the record for the fastest time: 6 hours and 57 mins.

. July 24 2010: Jackie Cobell (56 years old) broke the record for the longest time: 28 hours 44 mins.


* HONOUR: Eileen Fenton at the time of her swim, below * GUEST OF HONOUR: Eileen Fenton pictured recently
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 19, 2010
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