Gill’s Journey to Becoming the First Ostomate to Swim Solo Across the English Channel

In 2011, Gill Castle experienced childbirth complications which led to a permanent colostomy. Read her inspirational story about how she recovered her fitness and is aiming to be the first person with a stoma to swim alone from southern England to northern France. 

Learn about how Gill is living her life to the fullest – and encouraging others to do the same.

In October 2011, Gill Castle gave birth to her son Sam who was born six weeks prematurely and weighed just 4 lbs. 7 oz. She suffered a fourth-degree perineal tear and experienced a rare complication called a recto-vaginal fistula (an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina). Emergency colostomy surgery was necessary to divert the faeces from her wounds. When her medical team realised that her sphincter muscles were too badly damaged to ever be repaired, the colostomy became permanent. Below, Gill talks about how she found the right ostomy pouch, recovered her physical strength, and is currently training to be the first person with an ostomy to swim alone across The Channel in August 2023. 

Finding a stoma bag that worked 

During the months after my colostomy surgery, I experimented with different types of stoma bags. With the first few, I had a bad reaction to the barrier adhesive – my skin became red, itchy, and sore. Such a seemingly small patch of reddened skin had a surprising impact on my ability to live an active life. Any movement caused my peristomal skin to rub against the adhesive, which hurt – so I automatically began to limit my activity to avoid discomfort. I stopped going out for meals or to see films with friends. I even avoided hugging my child. Eventually, however, I discovered the Dansac NovaLife TRE ™ range of ostomy products, which helped protect my skin and keep it healthy.

If you’re an ostomate struggling with skin irritation or discomfort, don’t let that hold you back from living your life. Take the time to find a stoma bag and skin care routine that works for you. Ask a stoma nurse for help, if necessary. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the right ostomy products. 

Living an active life and pursuing a dream 

I have always been passionate about proving that experiencing trauma and having an ostomy needn’t mean the end of a fulfilling and happy life. Since I recovered from my injuries, I have been taking steps towards being more active – facing my fears and challenging myself to see what is possible with a stoma. In August 2023, I will be setting out from Dover, a town and major ferry port in Kent, South East England, to swim the 21 miles to France. I’ll be swimming by myself, with only my boat crew for support, and aim to be the first person in the world to swim the Channel solo with a stoma! I have been training incredibly hard for over two years – in the gym, in the pool, and in the sea – covering distances of up to 15k in the pool and doing 6-hour sea swims.  

It has been a huge learning curve for me as I had never swum more than a mile in the sea before. One of the hardest parts about training with an ostomy has been making sure that I time my meals so that my stoma is emptied before I enter the water. I also needed to learn which foods react badly with my stoma. I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve had to jump out of the pool and run to the toilet! For the big swim itself, I will leave my bag on drain and hope for the best! 

I have progressed from long months of physical therapy on a damaged shoulder, to swimming up to 20k a week (over four swim sessions) plus doing two gym sessions and a Pilates session. And all the while, I’ve been juggling my training with working, parenting, and running my charity “Chameleon Buddies”. 

Feeling confident with the right pouch and healthy skin 

The thought of swimming at night in the dark makes me nervous, but I am excited to finally face this “Mount Everest” of swimming goals. I couldn’t do any of this, however, if my stoma bag didn’t fit properly or if I was in discomfort due to poor peristomal skin. So, with my ideal bag and excellent skin health, I have the confidence to tackle this immense challenge on behalf of all ostomates! 

With the right products and the right mindset, you too can overcome obstacles and achieve your dreams. Remember, there is strength in vulnerability and power in perseverance. I hope that my story inspires you to overcome your own challenges, push beyond your limits, and join me in breaking boundaries. Go out there and live boldly – and let your journey inspire others to do the same! 


People who provided testimonials received compensation from Hollister Incorporated. The testimonials, statements, and opinions presented are applicable to the people depicted. These testimonials are representative of their experience, but the exact results and experience will be unique and individual to each person.