Lowry and Read enter Hall of Fame

Sunny Lowry
Sunny Lowry

The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Class of 2009’s eight honorees are Mike Read of Great Britain, Skip Storch of the USA, Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria, David Meca Medina of Spain, Maria Luisa Cabañeros Sanchez de Leon of Spain, Britta Kamrau of Germany, Frank Pritchard of USA as an Honor Pioneer Swimmer, and a posthumous award for Sunny Lowry of Great Britain.

Mike Read made 31 Channel crossings from 1979 to  2000, and was the first person to make six successful crossings in one season. With more than 110 open water swims over 16km to his credit, Mike served as the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Channel Swimming Association for 30 years.

Sunny Lowry, born in Longsight, Manchester in 1911, was one of the first English women to swim the Channel. Sunny started swimming at the Victoria Baths, breaking all the rules about the length of time she should stay in the pool. She became very successful in swimming competitions and diving skills. She and her sister went to Levenshulme Baths where they trained to enter swimming competitions on Lake Windermere and soon began winning all the prizes.

Sunny also swam long distances in the sea at the family holiday home at Rhos-on-Sea, on one occasion from there to Colwyn Bay and back.

Her father decided that she had the potential to achieve her ambition, which had always been to swim the Channel, so he allowed her to go on even more demanding training at Westgate-on-Sea, near Margate in Kent.

Throughout the winter Sunny arose to a hearty breakfast of an 8 egg omelette, followed by 3-4 hours training in the sea. Eventually her trainer, Jed Woolfe, considered she was ready to make her first attempt at swimming the channel. She started from St. Margaret’s Bay near Dover. Her 40 eggs a week diet had certainly given her stamina, but the currents were against her as she approached the French coast. Her trainer and the captain of the support boat called off the attempt.

The trainer spotted her red cap by lightning flashes. It took them 3/4 hour to catch up with her and get her on board. She was so disappointed as she had been able to see France for ages and was almost there. Her father was so proud of her brave attempt that he said that she must try again.

Sunny’s third Channel attempt was made in August 1933 from Cap Gris Nez to St Margaret’s near Folkestone. She set off on the 28 August and swam all night, contending with the currents and a shoal of jellyfish. After 15 hours 41 minutes she reached St Margaret’s Bay, only the fifth British woman ever to swim the Channel.

Her two piece swimming costume, which she wore for practical reasons as the full heavy woollen costume chaffed her neck and shoulders, was considered very daring. It is now on show at the Cross Channel Museum in Dover with the flag Sunny had embroidered herself with the Manchester Bees Emblem.

At aged 92, she returned to St Margarets Bay to recall her epic swim for BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour (Aug 2003).

She founded three clubs, started the Pilot Life Saving Scheme and was an early member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association. She was president of the Channel Swimming Association from 2000 to 2007, a post in which she was noted for her charm and consideration for others. She travelled by coach to Dover from the North West for the association’s annual general meeting well into her nineties.

Lowry was a leading figure in the successful campaign to renovate Manchester’s Victoria Baths, which resulted in the project receiving £3.5 million in the first of the BBC’s restoration programmes.

Lowry was appointed an MBE in 2005 and died on 21 February 2008, aged 97