A SAMARITANS volunteer with a string of health issues completed a five-hour swim to celebrate the charity’s 50th anniversary.

Tracy Tilbey’s marathon effort earned her a £1,000 donation from actress Joanna Lumley – and a royal seal of approval.

Tracy, 51, said she received letters of support from the Queen and Princes William and Harry.

The Duke of Cambridge also sent her a photo of his family, which she hopes to auction for the Samaritans.

Tracy, from Worthing, has suffered for more than 20 years with problems including arthritis, an underactive thyroid, high blood pressure, psoriasis and depression.

But she decided to challenge herself to a gruelling sponsored swim at the Splashpoint Leisure Centre, in Brighton Road, Worthing.

She said training was tough: “With all my problems my mobility is limited but I’ve always loved swimming.

“When I started training I could only do one or two lengths at a time.

“But I went to practise three or four times a week and I was doing that since November.

“I also have to walk my two dogs as well.

“I was waking up at 5.30am to get to the swimming pool – via two buses. It was draining.

“The thought of getting up early and doing it was tough but once I’d done the training I felt great.”

Tracy said she was as ready as she could have been but health issues nearly stopped her completing her challenge.

She said: “I came down with a cold before the swim. I had to take some vitamins beforehand because I was really tired.

“I went and sat in the steam room before the swim.

“And I only stopped twice for 30 seconds for a drink.

“My sister took photos and you can see towards the end that I was feeling it.

“My chest was tightening up and I was struggling to breathe.

“But I’m quite stubborn so because I started I had to finish.”

Tracy has been a volunteer at the Samaritans for 13 years, after she credited the charity for “saving her life”.

She was having problems with drugs and alcohol and a friend took her to the Samaritans for support.

She said: “I had a few problems of my own and someone took me to Samaritans.

“They were there for me when I needed someone to sit and talk to. That’s really important.

“I couldn’t talk to my family at the time and it’s always easier talking to a stranger.

“After that initial meeting I was speaking to them for a couple of months.

“Then I got help and went into rehab.”

Tracy wanted to raise money for the charity so contacted several celebrities and was amazed by the response.

The biggest donation was £1,000 from TV presenter and actress Joanna Lumley.

Tracy said: “It was great – I just wasn’t expecting that.”

There are branches of the Samaritans across Sussex.

To find your nearest, visit www.samaritans.org.