Our cover images policy at Outdoor Swimmer is, as far as possible, to celebrate real swimmers doing real swimming (rather than models doing pretend swimming). In our January 2019 issue we had a wonderful article from Rowan Clarke exploring why there are fewer male than female cold water swimmers. We decided to feature one of her interview subjects, Jeremy Murgatroyd, on the cover. We also got him to answer a few questions.
How does it feel to be a cover model?
It came as a bit of a shock on Wednesday 19 December to find a post on our Clevedon Lake And Sea Swimmers (CLASS) group Facebook page from John Myatt with the simple but honest comment “Jeezers!” together with a photo of me on the cover of Outdoor Swimmer for January 2019. For a while I thought it was a wind-up as John, one of the record breaking two-man 2-way English Channel swimmers, an ice-miler, and inventor of the Chilly Willy Combobulator, has a wicked sense of fun (you really need to interview him and his team for an article). But this was too professional, so it had to be real. I knew there was going to be an article from Row Clarke about the lack of male swimmers, but it had never crossed my mind that I might be on the cover! I had mixed feelings about it: firstly it was hilarious to be on a magazine cover that is read all over the world. This just doesn’t happen to ordinary people like me. I jokingly wanted to go and stand next to the magazine rack in WH Smiths wearing my hat and goggles pointing to Outdoor Swimmer; secondly “Oh gosh! Why me?” out of all the fantastic photos of us “token blokes” captured that day by Jemima Rose of Fur and Gold Photography (Row’s sister); thirdly a sense of guilt because I didn’t feel worthy, particularly following the previous issue with Ross Edgley. I hadn’t done anything inspirational, whereas Ross has apparently done a little swim recently!
How have your swimming friends reacted to seeing your naked torso on the magazine? What about your family?
My fabulous swimming friends thought it was funny, but a nice photo. They are used to seeing my naked torso, but just not on the cover of a magazine. They started calling me a “pin-up”, saying they were now swimming with the famous, and could they have signed copies. Billie Oliver suggested that this was my mum’s Xmas present sorted – which it was thanks to your kind offer of a second copy. A few days later, John Myatt revealed that I was now also the Outdoor Swimmer Facebook page profile picture. Btw, Ross Edgley has 63 “likes” for his Outdoor Swimmer cover on Facebook whereas I only have 40 – from people all over the world that don’t even know me, which is a bit weird!. I think my family largely expect this sort of thing from me, so basically they saw it as fairly normal and didn’t react with any great emotion or surprise. My beautiful girlfriend Sue thinks I deserve to be on the cover, but she loves me and is thus slightly biased. A friend at work thought it looked like I had brushed my chest hair!
In the article, you said: “Girls are encouraged to swim, while boys are encouraged to kick a ball.” Do you think swimming (in general) has an image problem for men and boys, and what could be done about it?
I don’t think that swimming has an image problem, it’s just that football in particular is a gargantuan media machine designed to scoop up every boy on the planet (and many girls too these days). So swimming doesn’t get a look in, or any coverage or funding. Let’s face it, swimming is not a great spectator sport so there are few role models, and not everyone has easy access to a pool, and certainly not many have the desire to immerse themselves in cold open water all year round. Football is literally everywhere you look, causes deep passions, involves perverse sums of money, and at all ages it’s easy to pick up a ball and find a bit of open space to whack it at each other. Boys are basically told at an early age that they need to adore footballers, support a team, and be a good player in order to be “cool” and “fit the mold” – and not many kids are happy if they don’t fit the mold, so they take the path of least resistance. An increased interest in swimming has to be instilled in children at an early age – just as football is. My parents provided me with opportunities in many different sports and interests, but I think I was lucky, and I’m sooo grateful for that. Children need to have easy access to pools and exciting reasons to keep swimming regularly, and schools need to include swimming as part of their physical education, life skills, and embrace competitions. Children particularly thrive on competition because it gives them fun, attention, challenges, and camaraderie. They are provided this with football at schools and clubs, and even subconsciously having a kick-about in the park or the playground. We need a swimming equivalent of a kick-about in the park, with easy access and incentives for kids to want to do it. For most this will need to be indoor pools, but outdoor bodies of water, particularly lidos and marine lakes, provide really fun and memorable experiences that will stay with you for life. I’m a great believer in FUNdamentals, particularly for children, but also for this to be maintained through the teens and into adulthood. Swimming will never be as popular as football, but if society doesn’t change its focus we will never realise the full potential of swimming.
Do you consider yourself to be more of a “faffer and social swimmer” or a “goal-orientated swimmer”.
I’m a bit of both. I used to be far more goal orientated (you see, even this uses football terminology!) when I was training for triathlons, running races, and swimming with a team. Stronger, fitter and faster was a big drive in my life even only a few years ago. But I’ve recently found that I can’t go on like that forever, age is catching up with me and my body tends to break. Also that approach can be quite lonely at times, and actually the satisfaction is rather short lived and ultimately only means anything to you. Today, I still like to keep fit but in a more relaxed manner. I’ve introduced much more of a faffing element with my lovely outdoor swimmy friends, and I’m a happier person for it. Also, social outdoor swims provide a much wider spectrum of experiences – such as mine and Sue’s magical encounter with seals in Torbay, warm geothermal mountain pools in Iceland, Tim Clouter showing us how to dive and pick up spider crabs in Barafundle, Vicky Bell producing glasses of bubbly on an inflatable island in Clevedon marine lake, and Helen Ball’s monthly full moon swims in the dark under Clevedon pier involving much laughter, fire pits, mulled wine, and cake. Yay!
How often do you swim, and how does your swimming routine vary through the year?
On average I swim two or three times a week. In the winter I tend to include one or two long focussed lunchtime lane swims at my local indoor pool during work days, interspersed by cycling and running on the other days. Then I’ll usually do shorter swims once or twice at the weekend, sometimes just a dip in the lake straight after yoga on Sunday morning. This winter I’ve embraced being “skins”, so my outdoor swims are a maximum of about 500m at the moment to avoid being a shivering wreck. In the summer, the longer days make it possible to do longer swims in the marine lake or the sea at Clevedon on weekday evenings and at weekends, sometimes at various fabulous locations around the UK coast or abroad. Oddly, I revert to a wetsuit more often in the summer so that I can last for these longer swims. A favourite is to swim during sunset from Clevedon beach under the pier and a mile up the coast to Ladye Bay and back, taking advantage of the tide and a loop round the end of the pier on the way back to say hello to the fishermen and tourists. This is often followed by a BBQ on the beach.
If you had to give one reason why other men should try cold water swimming, what would you say?
You’ll find out a lot about yourself, and life.