From nervous swimmer to 70.3 World Champion, at age 70

H2 Open Day 072

Linda Spillane shares her story of how, starting from only being able to swim two lengths of her local pool, she became a confident open water swimming and the Half-Ironman World Champion for her age group.

I began my open water adventures back in 2012. That's me in the picture above in the yellow hat at the inaugural H2Open Day at the Reading Lake Hotel in Berkshire, before the magazine rebranded to Outdoor Swimmer. It was early spring; cold and damp yet the atmosphere was warm, welcoming and it was great to be amongst like-minded people. I remember some excellent talks, lots of stands and I'd also entered the 750m swim - a distance I'd never attempted. I took off hoping to get as far as the first buoy then surprised myself by actually finishing the whole circuit of the lake. Many were without wetsuits and this was April!

Finish Of Swim

My husband, daughter and I were among the last to leave and thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. I've always loved swimming but was never very good at it. I remember watching the first Wales Swim at Tenby in 2010 and was in awe of the swimmers battling the choppy seas! I could barely swim two lengths of a pool but badly wanted to be able to swim confidently in open water like these athletes. I joined a local triathlon club where I met a keen open water swimmer who gave me a copy of H2Open Magazine. She said she'd like to swim all year but couldn't find anyone to go with.

"I'll come with you," I quickly replied and we embarked on a winter of swimming off local Welsh beaches even though there was often ice on the sand.

I continued to swim through the winter and found a local diving centre that allowed swimming (sadly now closed to open water swimmers). I entered a few triathlons and then, in 2013, I plucked up courage to do the 1.9K distance of the Wales Swim in Tenby. I started at the back with the breaststrokers, amazed and impressed that some people could cover that distance breaststroke. Once on my way, I tried to focus on staying calm. I was so happy when, after 42 minutes, I reached dry land again.

The longest swim I ever did was the 6km Llangorse Lake swim event in 2014. I was last out of the water that September evening and it was getting dark. The same year I completed the full Long Course Weekend in Tenby which has the same swim course as Ironman Wales. Feeling confident after that, I entered Ironman Wales the next year. The swim was rather choppy on Ironman day with the sea rolling steeply once further out. I tried to stay positive and blocked out fears of panicking. Unfortunately, I failed to meet the cut off time on the bike section so didn't finish. Determined to improve I went back to Tenby the next year where I did reach the finish and have now completed Ironman Wales three times.

In June 2019 at 70 years old I qualified at Stafford for the 70.3 Ironman World Championships (half Ironman distance) which were to be held in Nice, France that September. This Championships was a week after Ironman Wales, which I'd already entered. I made a quick decision to attempt them both, back to back.

I'm usually the only female in the 70-75 age group but at the World Championships in Nice there were 11 starters from around the globe. Swimming in the Mediterranean was a wonderful experience but rather choppy 800 meters out. The weather was beautiful and later that day I crossed the finish line first in my age group and became a 70.3 World Champion. There were lots of well-known professional athletes racing too that weekend including Alistair Brownlee and Daniella Ryf.

The following weekend I was on the start line at Ironman Wales about to take on the 3.8K swim section alongside over 2,500 swimmers. Sixteen hours and fifteen minutes later I was the oldest person to finish.

Thanks to your magazine, my family who’ve always supported me and some very good friends I fulfilled a dream I never thought was possible. Throughout lockdown Outdoor Swimmer magazine has helped me escape into the world of open water swimming with its imaginative articles and wonderful pictures. It's been the nearest thing to having a real swim. Thank you to all involved firstly at H2Open then Outdoor Swimmer for being a very important part of my journey.

Podium

On the podium, centre, after Nice 70.3 with Inge Stettner (Germany) on the right and Diane Ridgway (USA) on the left.

01 Cover December

Issue 44 December 2020

  • Finding joy in 2020: Sarah Thomas looks back on a very strange year
  • Motivation: triple Olympian Keri-anne Payne on dealing with changing situations
  • UnstoppaBull: the extreme adventurer who swam in the highest lake on earth
  • Wild swimming: misadventures in the Peak District
  • Soul Cap: solving the problem of swimming with afro hair

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