Ella Foote chats to Welsh swimmer Tom Boswell about his ambition to swim 365 days consecutively to raise money for testicular cancer charity, the Odd Ball Foundation.
There was a time when spring was the start of the open water season in the northern hemisphere. The clocks would spring forward and the lengthening days would symbolise the dawn of a new season of swimming – full of promise, events and adventures.
Swimming as early in the season as March or April was seen as a niche pastime and many of those who braved the cold would only swim in neoprene. But times change and many outdoor swimmers now swim year-round without wetsuits. Winter swimming is more popular than ever and for swimmers like Tom Boswell, being able to swim 365 days of the year has become a daily part of life.
“I have never been so connected to nature or the change in light since I started swimming daily,” says Tom. “I have always been somebody that spent a lot of time outdoors, appreciated the natural environment and would have said I was connected to it. But swimming daily means I can see the light change every day and see the seasons change.
I often think, everyone must experience this, but we don’t notice, we forget. Getting outdoors intentionally every day you notice the temperatures going up and down, the snowdrops and daffodils arriving.”
Making swimming part of his routine
Born and growing up in Wales, Tom spent his childhood in and around water. His mum was a swimming instructor and weekends were spent at the coast. He now lives in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire with his husband and son.
“Llanelli is a beach with a large tidal movement on the estuary of the River Loughor,” says Tom. “It is lovely because it isn’t touristy, but we are well located to head to the Brecon Beacons, the west coast or across to the Gower peninsular.”
Living close to several different swimming spots, Tom and his family often visit the beach or take their campervan out on adventures across Wales. Then last year, after going through a testicular cancer screening, Tom’s mental health took a battering and he found himself needing more time to himself.
“I needed to do something that helped me not to be with my thoughts all the time,” he says. “Cold water gave me that. I started swimming in the mornings on my own or when I wasn’t at work. I would gather my thoughts and it would help me be more present. It was a way to bring control back into my life.”
Tom made outdoor swimming part of his routine. “I would get up and go for a swim, hearing an owl. Get to the reservoir near where we live and see a heron after my dip,” he says. “They became part of my morning routine. After the mental health toll from my cancer screening over six months, it gave me the space to heal. Water has been a big healer for me.”
An ambition to swim 365 days a year
Tom’s experience of regular swimming prompted an idea to do 365 days of consecutive swimming and a chance to raise money for testicular cancer charity, the Odd Ball Foundation.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer to affect men between the ages of 15-49, but if detected early it is one of the most curable cancers. Tom started his daily dips in September last year, but he is enjoying it so much he never remembers how far into his challenge he is.
“I am not sure what day I am on today,” says Tom. “Even though I push myself to do it every day, every morning I wake up and look forward to it. I think I will continue for the rest of my life because it has become such a big part of my routine. The social element has made it even better!”
When Tom first started, much of his swimming was solo or at weekends with his family. But he now leads his own swimming group, the North Dock Dawn Dippers, who meet daily to swim in the North Dock at Llanelli.
“When I first started my daily dips, I was doing a lot on my own, so I looked for groups and places locally to swim,” says Tom. “I met and swam with the local Bury Bluetits who were very friendly and welcoming, but they were mostly female and in a different age cohort to me. It was hard to connect to them on a deeper level as they were retired, or at a different stage in life to me, so I decided to start my own group. I was swimming every day and thought I would just put it out there for anybody to join.
That’s how the North Dock Dawn Dippers came about, and it is growing all the time. I get people swimming with me every day, and on a Friday we have a social swim where we have teamed up with a local café, Primavera Wellness Space, who provide hot drinks and cake.”
Daily dips in 2023 will be further afield as Tom and his family have a year of adventures planned. As well as closer to home favourites like Scotland and his home country, Tom plans to swim in the Caribbean and is heading for Mont Blanc, too. While he is looking forward to days warm enough to get multiple dips and swims into an adventure, winter remains his favourite time to swim.
“I don’t know if it is because of my colouring – I am very pale skinned and have red hair!” he says. “But winter just captivates me. As a family we head to Scotland before Christmas and I love the snow, ice and frozen lakes. In Wales we go snow hunting. Because we live near the coast, we will watch the forecast and then head into the mountains to hunt for snow. It has become a tradition for us, my son loves it too. I get excited about going into very, very cold water.”
Despite his love of the cold, Tom is quick to explain that, really, he loves and embraces all weathers and conditions. “I am not one of these people who get seasonal depression,” he says. “I like every kind of condition. Rain doesn’t bother us; it just makes the adventures different.”'Hemispheres' issue page.