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24-hour reservoir swim to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research

1 May 2012

A terminally ill grandmother from Netherton in Huddersfield will meet the team fundraising on her behalf for the first time on 06 May, following a 24-hour outdoor ‘swimathon’ to raise money for research into pancreatic cancer.

Cath Winterburn (60) met keen open water swimmer Rebecca Jarre (43) from Oldham through Facebook, when she joined a successful campaign to allow people to continue swimming in Sparth reservoir in Marsden - where Cath grew up - and they quickly became close ‘virtual’ friends. When Cath was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in October last year, just 3 years after losing her younger brother Gareth to the same disease, she asked Rebecca if she could help raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.

Says Cath: “Before I knew it, Rebecca had organised a 24-hour relay swim in Sparth reservoir and was busy recruiting a team of swimmers to take part. She’s been a tower of strength and such a good friend – despite never having met me in person. I can’t wait to finally meet her in person and give her a big hug to say thank you for all she’s doing!

“It’s lovely that the event will be in the Sparth, which we fought to keep open to swimmers.  As children we used to have family picnics there and play and paddle in it with friends and I have some really happy family memories of that time,” she says.

The 24-hour fundraiser starts at midday on 05 May, with the support of British Waterways, ending at midday on 06 May, with Cath and her family joining the team to watch the final few hours of the event. 

The relay team includes 16 members of the Dove Dippers, a Facebook open water swimming group that Rebecca belongs to, who are famously known for eating cakes after each swim, and who were recently featured on BBC’s Countryfile programme.  Each team member will swim between temporary buoys for an hour and those swimming through the night will have experienced ‘spotters’ on the banks with torches and camping lanterns in addition to the moonlight to guide them.

Says Rebecca: “Cath is a lovely and remarkable lady and we hit it off straight away on Facebook. Her story touched me very deeply and I felt real sadness for her and her family. I knew I had to do an event to raise awareness for Cath and the charity. I originally thought of doing the swim myself as I’m known for swimming in zero temperatures for long periods of time. However, when I mentioned this to the Dove Dippers, they jumped on board to help.

We’re all so excited about the swim as a team and are looking forward to meeting Cath for the first time, which many of us will find very emotional. We just hope that Cath turns up with a cake.”

Despite undergoing a gruelling cycle of chemotherapy, Cath is determined to be there on the 06 May to cheer the swimmers through the final few hours of the swim. “I don’t know how long I have left and I'm living my life by making the most of every day,” she says.  “I’ve been overwhelmed by the fundraising that both my family and friends have been doing and I can’t wait to finally meet Rebecca in person and give her a big hug to say thank you for all she’s done.”  

“Raising money for research is so important to me as there is so much we don’t know about this type of cancer,” says Cath. “My mum has seen two of her children diagnosed with it, and I need to think about the younger generations in my family - my own children and grandchildren - so we have to find answers, even if it’s too late for me.”

Pancreatic cancer is highly aggressive and has the worst survival rate of any common cancer. Only three out of every 100 people diagnosed will live for 5 years – and this figure hasn’t improved in forty years.  Some 8,000 people are diagnosed in the UK every year, and despite being the 5th biggest cause of cancer death, it receives less than 2 per cent of available research funding.

The local Co-op store in Marsden has donated gifts for swimmers’ goodie bags as has the Morrisons store in nearby Meltham. Each swimmer will be presented with a certificate and medal, donated by Rebecca’s son Joshua. Uswim Openwater, the open water swimming specialists, have also donated swimming hats to the team.

The team already has over £600 pledged, but are aiming higher. If you’d like to donate to the fundraiser for Cath, please go to 

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