Nurse Melissa hopes to be in Severnth heaven with record swim

By Lisa O'Brien | Shrewsbury | News | Published:

After a knee injury left her walking with a stick and needing stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis, Shropshire nurse Melissa Compton had no choice but to abandon her love of skiing.

Yet determined to stay fit and indulge her love for the outdoors, she discovered a new passion – open water swimming.

Whatever the weather or the temperature of the water, Melissa can be found swimming outdoors in her swimsuit.

Now she is bidding to become the first woman to swim the length of the River Severn, the longest river in England and Wales.

Melissa, who works for The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), will be taking on the challenge in June to raise money for the charity Versus Arthritis, as a thank you for funding her stem cell treatment.

Melissa works in the intensive care unit at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

She will be attempting to swim a total of 220 miles – launching her bid from the source high on a mountain in Mid Wales and finishing at the mouth by swimming into the Bristol Channel and landing at Severn Beach.

It will take up to three weeks to complete and Melissa, a nurse in the intensive care unit at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, will be swimming 10-12 miles a day.

The final week, when Melissa swims into the Bristol Channel, will be the most dangerous as it has the second highest tidal range in the world.


During the challenge, Melissa will swim through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire and under the famous Iron Bridge.

Melissa Compton

Her training includes regular swimming in the Severn, climbing Snowdon and gym work to strengthen her legs.

It will be the second gruelling challenge for Melissa in 12 months.


Last year she swam 22 miles across the English Channel as part of a relay team of four.

Melissa said: “Last year was an incredible experience for me – but this one will be really challenging, hard work and definitely fun – the ultimate achievement.”

She will be supported on part of her journey by Mick Woffindale, who works in medical engineering services at SaTH, and who will be her kayak support as she heads into the Channel.

Mick, who has been kayaking since he was 14-years-old, has also been supporting Melissa during her training.

Melissa, who lives near Shrewsbury, discovered open water swimming just over three-and-a-half years ago and says it has changed her life.


She said: “My obsession with swimming came about after I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right knee at the age of 34.

"Throughout my twenties I spent most winters skiing where I picked up several bad knee injuries which needed surgery.

"After I stopped doing ski seasons, I took up long distance walking. This added further strain to my knee.

“I started to struggle to walk and ended up using a walking stick and only managed to walk short distances before the pain became too much.

"A friend of mine suggested that I should take up swimming.

"I was reluctant at first having never given it any thought before, but as my mobility reduced still further, I realised that I needed some form of exercise to stay fit. So, I literally took the plunge.

“I went for a swim in Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) in North Wales. From that day I was hooked. I dragged my friends to shore watch whilst I swam, not caring what the weather was like.

“I managed to swim for just a couple of months during that first year before the major knee surgery that I needed could not be put off any longer.


"I had stem cell therapy, as part of a trial, on the cartilage in my right knee and a meniscus transplant. It meant that they grew my stem cells in the lab, removed the arthritis and grafted the stem cells to the holes so it grows back into cartilage. It has worked very well for me, and I am almost back to being as active as before.”

It was six months before Melissa was allowed by her surgeons to swim outdoors again.

“Myself and my friends now swim 365 days of the year, and in the winter we seek out the ice and snow," she said.

"A recent trip to the Lake District saw us plunging in lakes covered in thick ice and snow which took 20 minutes to break with the ice axe so that we could wallow in the clear, crisp 0C water underneath.

“2018 was my biggest swimming year so far, so for 2019 I have decided to set a new challenge for myself.

"The planning and training are under way to try and become the first woman to swim the length of the River Severn and the first person ever to do it in skins. It will be quite an adventure.”

To sponsor Melissa, visit

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.


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