A UNIVERSITY lecturer endured cold water, torrential rain and jellyfish to swim the English Channel to help support her compatriots escaping from war torn Syria.

Dr Zeina Alsharkas, who is a lecturer in Economics at Essex University, moved to England from Damascus in 2012 to study for her Masters degree.

A former member of the Syrian national swimming team, she took on the 21-mile swim earlier this week.

Dr Alsharkas, 28, has become one of less than 2,000 swimmers to complete the challenge and the first woman from Syria to swim the distance.

She was welcomed into shore in France after 11 hours and 36 minutes by her sister Hela, show is studying in the country, and mum Huda, who successfully applied for a temporary visa so she could cheer her daughter at the finish line.

Dr Alsharkas, who put on 8.5kg in weight to help her body cope with the cold, said: “The swim went great and nearly everything went to plan.

“I am happy with the time as I swam as well as I could on the day with the conditions I was faced with.

“It was choppy in the first half of the swim up until I cleared the South West zone.

“I felt a bit unwell and I was concerned that the pain would increase. Thankfully, with pain killers, I started to feel better.”

Dr Alsharkas also had to swim through a bloom of jellyfish in part of the Channel known as the Separation Zone.

“I knew it is full of jellyfish, but I also knew that it is the shortest zone,” she said.

“I increased my pace to clear it as soon as possible to avoid jellyfish and I also knew once I cleared it, I would be more than half way through my swim.

“I had amazing friends and my coach on the boat who were all cheering me up all the time.”


  • Zeina and her family at the finish line

Dr Alsharkas said she was relieved to reach the finish line - and see her family who were waiting to greet her.

“I was happy to see them all waiting on the beach,” she said.

“My mum was wading in the water to hug me first but I ran away from her.

“If I touched her before I cleared the water I would have been disqualified.”

Swimming is a passion for Dr Alsharkas and she was national champion in 50m and 100m butterfly stroke.

But she gave up the sport for five years while studying for her PhD suffering with a knee injury and having a heavy workload.

Training for the swim bid began at the end of last year and has included 5km swims at least four times a week in a pool, plus longer 14km outdoor swims at the weekend off the Tendring peninsula.

Dr Alsharkas was swimming to raise money for Sawa for Development and Aid to support children in refugee camps in Lebanon.

So far she has raised more than £700.

To donate visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/zeina-alsharkas.