I learnt to swim as a child. My mother took me and my siblings swimming every week and we learnt to enjoy the water through play. At junior school we had swimming lessons and it was the first time I was any good at a physical activity. I wasn’t particularly fast (I’m still not!), but I’d become a strong swimmer, and most importantly felt really happy and natural in the water. Rather than being the last to be picked for sports teams, I was with the pack of better swimmers.
I didn’t swim much as a teenager as I was too shy about wearing a swimming costume and all my make-up running, but when I left university I joined a life saving club. Here I made a good friend, Dave, who suggested I try masters swimming. I was very lucky that my local club catered for ‘normal’ swimmers and not just athletes, and I learnt to swim proper front crawl, mainly by copying other swimmers and with a little guidance from the coach. The breathing was hard to nail, but with perseverance I succeeded in developing a passable set of strokes. I can even tumble-turn, though mine are no quicker than just grabbing the side and kicking off!
On impulse in 2008 I signed up for the Great North Swim. I would not advise doing a mass participation swim without having a practice first – my mile took 41 minutes 20 seconds but it felt like two hours. I wore a surfing wetsuit and did most of the distance breaststroke. When I got out I vowed I’d never swim outside again. Luckily this feeling didn’t last and, after speaking with Jim (the masters coach), I began swimming at Box End Park near Bedford.
Outdoor swimming is a brilliant pastime because it is accessible to anyone who can swim. The conditions can be challenging, but that’s what makes it so satisfying when you succeed and feel comfortable in a lake as opposed to a swimming pool. My favourite things about the open water are the views: I’ve seen a variety of fish, some ducks’ feet and swans close up. I also try and end every swim by floating on my back and relaxing every muscle – not a great idea if it’s a bit choppy!
Since 2008 I have completed 18 of the Great Swim Series swims. Last year I swam the Salford course five times in one day! Over the years my confidence has grown and this September I am swimming the Dart 10k. I love swimming outdoors so much that I’m always talking about it and I’ve managed to inspire quite a lot of friends and family into giving it a go.
Recently I went to a front crawl clinic to improve my stroke and I have taken the plunge and signed up to a swimming holiday in Greece. I would love to swim the Channel one day, but I am still far too attached to my wetsuit and a bit reluctant to go ‘skins’.
I hope this article encourages people who might not be the fastest to get into a sport that is really fulfilling and genuinely open to all levels of swimming ability. Go on, dip your toes in!
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