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Portadown woman’s relay team brave English Channel in aid of PKU charity 

“We all came together through our love of the sport and hatched a plan"

Six women, including one from Portadown, have braved the English Channel to raise valuable funds for the National Society for Phenylketonuria (NSPKU).

The relay team consists of Andrea Judge (47), Grace McLaughlin (51), Nuala Glynn (55), mother and daughter Jane (56) and Anna (19) Riley and Penny Nicholson (20).

Andrea is from Portadown, while the other girls are from Bangor, Groomsport, Ballyholme and Newtownards.

No stranger to the open water, last year Andrea was among an all-female relay team who became the first people ever to swim a 44-kilometre stretch of the Irish coastline.

Her team for this new challenge is named, ‘Misneach’, the Irish word for courage, also denoting hopefulness, bravery and spirit.

The team swam the challenging 21-mile journey on June 12 from Dover to France in skins as per the rules of the Channel Swimming Association, rotating every hour throughout.

They departed from Belfast on June 10 and made their way to the south coast of England. They began their gruelling swim at 3:25am on the morning of June 12 and endured the 14C waters for the next 12 hours and three minutes in their quest to reach to coast of France.

They were guided by the crew of Louise Jane Charters across the Channel who navigated a safe path for them, avoiding the many vessels using the waterway.

The English Channel is known as one of the most dangerous bodies of water to cross and is notorious for unpredictable weather. The women, however, were encouraged by a settled day of weather to help them along their way.

They decided to fundraise for the NSPKU as Penny, who is studying to be a Primary School teacher at Stranmillis, suffers from the condition.

PKU, or Phenylketonuria, is a rare metabolic condition which leaves sufferers unable to properly break down the protein in food.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money ahead of the swim and has already raised over £1,700 of the £1,000 target.

Andrea Judge, who works in sales, told Armagh I: “We are no strangers to channel swims as most of us have done relays of the North Channel and the dal Riata to name a few.

“We all came together through our love of the sport and hatched a plan.”

The girls had been preparing for the swim for over a year, doing their own individual training alongside a weekly joint practice session.

“We had to swim all winter to keep us acclimatised to the open water,” she added.

“We had a wee training session up in the North Channel and it was just magical.”

Penny Nicholson, who lives with PKU, says she has lived with a strict low-protein diet all her life.

She said: “At the start of last year I was on 12g of protein a day with a supplement to take three times a day to ensure I get the correct nutrients.”

However, thanks to a new drug called Sapropterin, Penny has been able to alter her diet for the better.

“Sapropterin reduces blood phenylalanine concentrations and increases phenylalanine tolerance, which has allowed me to go up to 38g of protein everyday which has been life changing. Previously I had never eaten any dairy or meat products as they were simply too high in protein!”

You can donate to Team Misneach’s fundraising appeal by visiting the GoFundMe link here.

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