Syrian lecturer completes English Channel swim

Zeina Alsharkas
Image caption Zeina Alsharkas says her Channel swim is symbolic of the turmoil with which Syrians live

A Syrian lecturer has said she is proud to have become the first woman of her nationality to swim the English Channel solo.

Zeina Alsharkas, 28, left Syria in 2012 to study for a masters degree in economics at the University of Essex.

The former national-level swimmer completed the 21-mile (34km) Channel crossing in 11 hours and 36 minutes.

She said she had overcome cramp, jellyfish stings and choppy seas to finish the journey.

Dr Alsharkas said: "The swim went great and nearly everything went to plan. I am very happy with the time as I swam as well as I could on the day with the conditions I was faced with."

Image caption Dr Alsharkas regularly swims more than three miles a day

She was met by her family at the shore in France but had to avoid a hug from her mother as she could have been disqualified.

"My mum was wading in the water to hug me first thing, but I ran away from her as if I touched her before I cleared the water I would have been disqualified," she said.

Image copyright Tim Denyer/@CoachTimSwim
Image caption Zeina Alsharkas, pictured here with her coach, completed the swim in 11 hours and 36 minutes

Dr Alsharkas has completed a PhD and now lectures at the University of Essex.

She trained for the crossing from October by swimming 5km (3.1 miles) a day, at least four times a week, and gained weight in a bid to insulate herself from the cold waters of the Channel.

Dr Alsharkas said: "I didn't feel any more tired than when I did my six-hour qualifying swim.

"It was very liberating."

Image caption Dr Alsharkas is a lecturer at the University of Essex

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