My first did not finish

Jo Lockhart Image 1

If you’re going to do it, do it with style. Jo Lockhart waited until she was on the world stage for her first DNF


One of the things that I love about open water swimming is the camaraderie. As I walked out of arrivals in Budapest on my way to the World Masters Championships, someone asked me if I was from Cambridge – she had seen me in Jesus Green Lido. We chatted and realised we were swimming in the same age group in the 3km open water race in Lake Balaton.

The following morning, my daughter Alex and I were up early to catch the free train to Balatonfüred. On arrival we had a practice swim in Lake Balaton. The water was calm and all was looking good for Friday.

My race was the last wave of the day. The weather was glorious but as the day progressed the wind started to get up. News started to filter through that there were metre-high waves on the course! After the safety briefing we had a 5-minute warm up. I was the first to jump in, eager to get going, but it quickly became obvious that this was not going to be a normal swim. The water was very choppy and holding on to the pontoon before the start was exhausting. I wished I hadn’t been so quick to get in.

The three whistles sounded and there was no turning back. As the start gun fired, we all set off. Before too long there were just three of us at the rear. I knew if I kept with them, I would be okay. The swimmer behind gave up within the first 1,000m so I was then last. But that didn’t matter because I was swimming at the Worlds!

Swimming away from the shore, the waves got larger and front crawl turned to breaststroke. I had already taken on a great deal of lake water and was retching violently. I reached the first buoy at 1,200m and turned to swim across the waves. All I could think about was another 500m and I would be turning for home. One further intake of water was too much and I vomited it back up.

As I was nearing the second buoy, I could hear the kayaker next to me shouting. That’s it, I thought, they are stopping me because I wasn’t going to make the cut-off. I had no idea how long I had been swimming for. I stopped and shouted out, “What?” She indicated that it was not at me but to the boat. She then repeated herself to another boat, but this time she stopped paddling. The next thing I knew was that the rear of the kayak swung round on the waves and hit me hard on the head.

Tales of woe

But I was determined to finish. I finally reached the buoy and turned for home. The waves by now were so high that I could not see the next buoy. I was eventually pointed in the right direction. Each time I stopped to sight, the kayaker asked me if I had finished. I was not giving up! Eventually, after about another 400m, I was exhausted, I couldn’t see the finish line and I started to panic. With a very heavy heart, I put my hand up signalling the end of my World Championship swim.

Then followed two boat journeys, a trip in a wheelchair and 30 minutes with the medics. Despite assuring them I was fine, protocol had to be followed and I eventually made it out to find an extremely concerned Alex.

The train journey back to Budapest was full of tales of woe and I was pleased to hear that I was not the only one who hadn’t finished. My first ever DNF and it had to be at the Worlds. But watch out Lake Balaton, you will not get the better of me and I will be back to conquer you!


What’s your Swim Story? Email: editor@outdoorswimmer.com

Jo Lockhart Image 2

Jo in front of Lake Balaton

01 Cover January

Issue 45 January 2021

  • The Northumbrian adventurer blazing his own watery (and icy!) trail
  • Keri-anne Payne on how to train like an Olympian in 2021
  • History, nature writing and the Troubles
  • Sarah Thomas looks at the icy thrill of ice miles

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