AN inspirational woman who can barely walk a few yards yet can swim more than a mile is taking to the water for charity.

Sandra Wheatley was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and has been in a wheelchair for about 20 years.

She finds her greatest sense of freedom in the swimming pool and visits Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre as often as she can, sometimes four days a week.

Miss Wheatley, 54, of Woodham, County Durham, has organised a 24-hour swimathon to be held at the pool this week.

She said: “I used to get hydrotherapy treatment, but it wasn’t working, then one day I dared to try swimming alone.

“Without someone telling me to do exercises because I was poorly, I realised I could do breast stroke and just took off.

“The big pool scared me and the deep end was terrifying.

“Eventually I realised if I was going to sink in the deep end, I could sink in the shallow end so went from widths to lengths and haven’t looked back.

“Just getting out of my chair, stretching and moving is a great relief and exercise gets the endorphins going and makes me feel great.

“The centre staff are brilliant.

My only frustration is when the public session ends I want to keep going, which is how the swimathon came about.”

Friends, family and leisure centre staff will join her swim, from noon on Wednesday, through the night until noon on Thursday.

Among the swimmers will be Miss Wheatley’s 81-year-old father, George, who only started swimming nine years ago after supporting one of her previous sponsored events.

Money raised from the event will be donated to the charity Tearfund, for a clean water project in Kigezi, southwest Uganda.

Miss Wheatley worked as a nurse before her MS progressed, and in the late Seventies worked at a medical mission in Kenya.

She said: “I learned then how precious water is.

“If we can do something to give them access to a clean glass of water I’ll be delighted.”

To support the swimathon, visit Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre or email