Woman swims in sea every day for year in memory of teen family friend

Leanne Okane has been campaigning for better mental health care support following the death of Reece Spark.

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A woman who took on a challenge to swim in the sea every day for a year in memory of a teenage family friend has reached her goal. 

Leanne Okane has been campaigning for better mental health care support following the death of 18-year-old Reece Spark from Nairn.

On Saturday the healthcare support worker was joined by Reece’s mother in the chilly Moray Firth for her final swim of the 365 Sea Swim Challenge.

Almost a year and a half ago Leanne’s son’s friend, Reece, took his own life.

She told STV News: “It’s been tough. I always had the nudge, ‘you are doing this for a reason’.

“I have seen the massive impact on mental health on young people, especially over Covid – you are getting it out there, people ask me why I am doing it.

“With Reece it was a massive shock and impact and I wanted to make people more aware of how big an issue it is.

“Reece was one of my son’s best friends.

“He would walk in the house and you’d think he lived there.

“He had a personality that everybody just took to. He got on with everybody.

“It was a shock and unexpected but that’s the nature when your head is not in a good place.”

She added: “There have been many young lives lost.

“There is no support for young people between the ages of 13 and 18 and that needs to be addressed.”

Leanne has made it her mission to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention charity, Mikeysline. 

She vowed to swim in the sea every day without a wetsuit to complete the feat – and after a year of daily dips, Saturday marked the final swim for Leanne.

She was joined by a number of friends – among them, Reece’s mum Doreen.

Doreen told STV News: “Reece was the life and soul of the party, he always had a smile on his face and would do anything for anybody. That smile masked a lot of stuff that had been going on in his head.

“I am so proud of Leanne for doing this, she has braved the sea every day.

“I feel like if you know that somebody is dying, you kind of get your time, but with suicide, there is never a goodbye, and you’ll never know why.” 

After the swim, which was watched by dozens of friends and well-wishers, the brave dippers warmed up with a beach bonfire.

Leanne says her swim challenge may be over but she and Doreen are both determined to keep campaigning for better mental health facilities for Highland youngsters.