Greece swimming holiday
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“My first swimming holiday transformed how I swim”

When an injured knee ruled out Alison Radevsky’s chances of relying on her usual breaststroke on her swimming holiday in Greece, she learned how to master front crawl instead

“Show my mother a body of water, and she’ll be in it!” said my son recently, when posting a picture of the two of us in a glacial stream in Canada.

I’ve always loved swimming outdoors and have developed an increasing dislike of indoor pools. So when I came across SwimQuest holidays, they seemed to have my name written on them.  I persuaded my friend Caroline to join me.  We talked through the trips on offer, and Mathraki jumped out – sunshine and clear blue water, suitable for all abilities, a well-honed model and a ‘Relax and Explore’ angle. We had several helpful and friendly email exchanges with Alice and Sarah and finally plumped for the first week of the season, the end of May.  

A spanner in the works

This was all back in December, and swimming seemed a long way off as the ski season arrived and I was fortunate to enjoy several trips. But on the penultimate day of my season, I fell and injured my knee – it turned out to be a completely ruptured ACL and lots of attendant cartilage damage.  In amongst the rehab and operation plans, I asked the physio about swimming. The immediate and worrying answer was, “Don’t even think about breaststroke.” I have always swum breaststroke, rarely and reluctantly front crawl. My reasoning is that I love looking around at the scenery – but to be honest, I’ve never been at all proficient at front crawl, which left me breathless and exhausted after a couple of lengths, despite a recent lesson and attempts at achieving better technique. So you can imagine that I was pretty depressed at the prospect of my holiday disappearing. But I resolved to work on my crawl and give it a go.

About this time, the balance for the Mathraki trip was due, and I contacted the lovely Sarah to explain the situation.  She couldn’t have been more understanding and reassured me that I could delay the final decision while I worked on the rehab – and the front crawl. Finally, a month or so later, I felt confident that I would at least be able to walk down to the beach, and get in and out of the boat safely, so I confirmed the holiday.

Into the blue

Our journey was uneventful and we met up with our fellow swimmers at the port as scheduled. Guides Sarah and Jo joined us and George, the delightful hotel owner and boat driver, ferried us across to the island. Our group turned out to be such a fun and positive lot – two couples and two single women, all travelling separately, plus us. One of the chaps was a non-swimmer, who did excellent photography duties from the boat. Everyone was good company, with no moaners (not that there was anything to moan about!) and plenty of laughter. 

Greece swimming holiday

Our wonderful little hotel was just perfect, gloriously situated on a beautiful beach, away from any other houses. I could scarcely believe that the bay was effectively all ours, though just a few others “invaded” on the last couple of days. Caroline and I had an apartment with a shared bathroom and two bedrooms which opened out onto a huge terrace/balcony with amazing and uplifting views towards the sunrise, over Corfu, Greece and Albania. Our apartment was super clean and, whilst not luxury, very comfortable. The food was excellent – copious and varied, and impressively flexible around dietary requirements.

Getting the hang of front crawl

The first day dawned rather grey and cool and Caroline and I wondered how inviting the water looked.  We were nervous about what was expected of us and how good and fast the other swimmers would be.  Of course, Sarah and Jo were hugely reassuring, but I was still rather jittery as I got in the water and began the ‘acclimatisation swim’ – basically, an opportunity for our guides to see what they were dealing with. It turned out that despite my very best efforts, my technique was nowhere near up to scratch, with the immediate and urgent problem being huge amounts of salt water up my nose and uncomfortably down the back of my throat! Strangely, I’d not been worried by this with swimming pool water, though it must have been happening there too. But within minutes of my seeking advice, Sarah had it cracked – “Just hum.”  Everyone reading this probably already knows, but you simply can’t NOT breathe out through your nose if you’re humming, and that solves the problem!

Greece swimming holiday

Uplifted and feeling much better in the sunshine, I started the afternoon swim, which was along the coast from the little port  back to the hotel. I’ve always been quite fit, and reasonably sporty, so I’m not used to being at the back of the pack, but that was definitely and disconcertingly where I found myself.  Two of the women were amazing swimmers, pure poetry in motion as they powered through the water in sync. The other four (including my friend) were very competent and considerably faster than me. But Jo and Sarah were fantastic – patient and encouraging,  generous with advice and coaching.  They explained about “windmilling”, about not crossing my hands over, about pushing the water in the right direction, and finally, almost as an aside, about leaning into the leading arm and dropping the hip.  Wow!  What a difference!  I’m not saying I was swimming at the same rate as the others by the end of the week, but I was certainly not so very far behind.  And most importantly of all, I was enjoying it.  Swimming front crawl now feels GOOD! 

Underwater world

It was a new experience enjoying the scenery underwater as I swam along. As a breaststroker, I was used to admiring the shoreline, and I have of course enjoyed snorkelling to see what is going on underneath me. But now swimming front crawl, and with good goggles, a whole world of sea life opened up below. And I will never forget the magic of sunlight shafts refracted back upwards from the depths giving me the feeling of swimming in my own personal path to heaven.

Greece swimming holiday

There was an emotional moment for me, and, I think, for Jo and Sarah, when I completed my first 2km swim – a lump in my throat as I enjoyed the results of the lightbulbs which the guides had lit up for me.  I’d never swum that distance before, and certainly not largely front crawl. I remain eternally grateful for my guides’ input, and my fellow swimmers’ support and encouragement.  

To anyone hesitating to sign up for a SwimQuest trip, I’d say, “Just do it!” Magic, challenging and yes, potentially life-changing.

Read more: wild swimming in Greece

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