Laura Hope Smith was inspired by the This Girl Can campaign to get into the water
I’m currently sitting at what has become my happy place: Queenford Lakes. It has officially opened for the ‘summer’ season, although it’s still pretty chilly. It’s evening and the sun is beginning to set over the beautifully still and glass like lake. I still feel like I’ve stumbled on one of life’s greatest secrets: outdoor swimming.
But what brought me here? How did I take those first steps into what for many is quite a daunting environment: the sometime murky water, the tickling weeds, what’s on the bottom, is anything going to eat me?
As a child, I loved swimming outdoors. I would cycle my bike to Warleigh Weir near Bath (this was before anyone really knew it was there) and dive in; it was the most delicious feeling ever but not many people understood that feeling or wanted to join me and as I got older I just did it less and less. To get my cold water fix, I stumbled across surfing and was the proud owner of a surfboard even though I could never master it, but loved that it got me out in the water, no matter the weather. Time passed and things changed when I became a mum. I got really bad postnatal anxiety, I sold my surfboard and things I used to love to do just slowly stopped.
Then I saw the ‘This Girl Can Swim the Henley Mile’ competition back in 2017 and knew I had to enter. It took so much to put myself forward when at the time I doubted my every ability but I also knew I needed to do it and it has been one of the best things I did. It’s got me back into outdoor swimming, and those things I remember from childhood; the feeling of silky water against my skin, the cool breeze on my face and that lovely fresh water smell is back in my life.
My happy place
Since the Henley Mile, I’ve not stopped. I loved it so much that I’ve continued to swim even through the winters. It has become my sanctuary, my happy place and my anti-anxiety medicine. I am no longer just a mum, as wonderful as that is, but as long as I swim, I am Laura again.
So, if you’re reading this magazine and yet to get in, I would say wholeheartedly “go for it”. You don’t have to be a wonderful swimmer, you don’t have to be a fast, head down front crawl swimmer, you just have to have your own unique wonderful body and want to swim. Open water swimming is one of the most leveling and inclusive sports you can do. Men and women, old and young, fit or not so fit can happily swim side by side, each with their own reason for swimming. And if you’re still not sure? Just look at my grin as I get out from the Thames having completed my first open water swimming event.
I have found the outdoor swimming community to be one of the friendliest and most inclusive clubs I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of and because of this inclusivity I can’t see that I’ll ever stop. Look out for me at the lake when I’m 90. I’ll probably still be in my bobble hat!
Photography: Katia Vastiau