Entries for the Great East Swim are now open. Enter at: Greatswim.org/East

A nurse will take on her first ever-open water swimming challenge in memory of her best friend who she lost to meningitis.

Alice Watkins, from Felixstowe in Suffolk, lost her best friend Kayleigh Mallett, who was just 19 years old.

Kayleigh, who lived in Ipswich, passed away due to bacterial meningitis over the Christmas of 2009, when Alice was just 17 years old.

She was admitted to hospital in December but sadly passed away three weeks later. Alice, who is now 27 and became friends with Kayleigh when the girls were in college, was inspired by her battle and went on to work as a critical care nurse.

She had always wanted to fundraise to raise awareness about meningitis in adults and decided that the Great East Swim on Saturday 17 June would be the perfect challenge for her.

She will be supporting the Meningitis Research Foundation in memory of Kayleigh and will hope to raise awareness about the fact that the disease can occur in any age.

Alice said: “I have never set myself a challenge like this before but I have always wanted to do something that would be in memory of Kayleigh but I struggled to think of a something that would be though enough.

“I have asthma and I found that swimming front crawl in my local pool really helped with my condition. I wanted to push myself further by taking on an open water swim.

“Kayleigh and I were very close and we went on holiday together so it was a huge shock when she was taken away from us so suddenly.

“She was admitted to hospital before Christmas and at first, they thought it was the flu but it ended up being a lot more serious.

“I went to visit her in early January and she sadly died shortly afterwards.

“This year I thought it would be a really good idea to do something that would show that Meningitis can happen to adults at any age as most of the time, people just worry about it happening in children.

“This will be a huge challenge for me because I have never taken part in swim outdoors before, but I will have my boyfriend Mark with me who has taken part before.

“He will be with me every stroke of the way and when I finish the swim, I will be thinking of Kayleigh and how proud she would be of me.”

Alice will join 3,000 other swimmers for the Great East Swim when it returns to Alton Water this June.

Thousands of swimmers will take on a range of distances from ½ mile up to the 10k marathon swim for fun, fitness and fundraising.

The event is Suffolk's biggest open water swim and is a great day out for swimmers, families and spectators.

Alice and her boyfriend Mark Oxford will be cheered on by their family and also joined by Kayleigh's family, who have been supportive of her fundraising.

Alice added: “I used to train in the swimming pool when I was younger, but I could only do backstroke and I was nervous about doing anything else because of my asthma.

“With Mark's help, I tried front crawl and realised that my asthma has really improved thanks to this.

“Doing the Great East Swim will be a huge challenge and it is not something that I have taken lightly and Mark and I are hoping to get out into the open water soon to have a practice.

“Kayleigh's mum and her family have given me loads of support so it will be extra special being able to complete something like this with all of them watching me.

“I feel like a little bit of pressure is on me but I am determined to complete it for Kayleigh.”

To support Alice, visit her fundraising page.

Entries for the Great East Swim are now open. Enter at: Greatswim.org/East