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Swimming my way to recovery

The 16th February 2010 is etched in my memory as the day I heard the words “you may never walk again”. I was laid in a hospital bed and told not to move or I could be paralysed for life. I had started with a lower backache, which soon progressed into sciatic pain down my right leg. After visits to my GP I had been reassured that I had a bulging disc in my lower back and that with physiotherapy and pain killers I would soon be on the mend. But after going to A&E I was rushed to Salford Royal, where I was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome, a neurological condition. I underwent an emergency operation to remove a disc that had been compressing my spinal cord. When I was discharged I was told I was lucky to be able to walk, but my right leg barely worked and felt wooden. It dragged. I spent two weeks in bed and when I did start my recovery I could only walk 50 metres. The nerves that supplied my right leg with all its functions had been paralysed so trying to walk was difficult. I was also incontinent and became depressed struggling with my problems.

I had six months off work as a paediatric staff nurse and with support I began to focus on my recovery. I wasn’t willing to accept that this was now my life, I wanted to get better. I had a gruelling recovery programme, but over time I became stronger and eventually plucked up the courage to go swimming. It was awful. My right leg dragged behind me, I was conscious of what I looked like and worried about having an embarrassing accident as I was undergoing bladder and bowel retraining. I nearly didn’t go back. But soon swimming became my therapy. It made me feel free and happy again.

I set my goal of the Great Manchester Swim and that’s when it truly began: my love of open water swimming. My mum, stepdad, son and daughter cheered me on the whole way around. That was it! I was well and truly hooked and buzzing for days.

I joined Uswim Openwater, who run regular sessions at Salford Quays, as a way of tackling my swimming fears. The horrendous cramping due to the nerve damage in my back haunted me. I was regularly rescued by the boat but never gave up. It soon became more than just swimming without lane ropes, but a way of life: my therapy, my physio, what keeps me smiling.

I have met some fantastic people who I regularly swim with and made friends for life. I have swum in the most beautiful lakes and tarns in the country. I also met my life partner David Quartermain, who just happens to be the founder of Uswim. One of the services offered at Uswim is a sports massage and as it was my birthday I booked in. The therapist was swimming so Dave stepped in and the rest is history!

Now I look at my calendar and it’s filled with wild dips, swim events, triathlons and swim challenges. I work as a children’s diabetes nurse, a swim coach, team leader at Uswim and event organiser.

In 2015 I swam Coniston, Loch Ness and the English Channel as part of the ‘Dover Souls’ relay team. My recovery is ongoing but now a way of life.

My passion for swimming has truly been the only prescription I ever needed.