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I love open water swimminmg: Babs Gray

On 16 December 2015 I celebrated my 49th birthday. A week earlier I had become a grandmother and six weeks previous to that celebrated my husband’s 50th birthday and our 25th wedding anniversary. We marked our anniversary with a fantastic holiday in the Red Sea. While Bill dived I took the opportunity to swim, enjoying the wonderful diverse fish and reef life. To the amazement of the rest of the boat I swam all day and in all conditions, from early mornings to wonderful night swims.

After the holiday I began experiencing pins and needles in my right hand. My swimming become a bit intermittent because of the numbness and odd sensations in my ribs, legs and shoulders. On my birthday I met with my consultant for the results of some scans. I was diagnosed with MS. 

I went into total shock. I was too healthy for this. During the summer I had swum 100km at Fritton Lake, swam in numerous organised events and walked along the coast for miles at weekends. I take care of myself and have a healthy diet – except for maybe too many meat pies on the odd occasion!

It has taken me some time to come to terms with my diagnosis. All the usual questions went round in my head: Why me? How did this happen? What does it mean for me and my family?

We returned to the Red Sea for a holiday and some time to come to terms with the diagnosis. Swimming alone, miles from anywhere, I was joined by a family of dolphins. It has taken a lot of soul searching but I now realise that my love for open water swimming will not go away. My MS is not going to take this away from me, it just makes me more determined. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am one of the lucky ones and I could be a whole lot worse. And I am also lucky to have a wonderful husband who understands my love of open water swimming and realises how therapeutic it is for me both physically and mentally. But it’s never easy when life throws a swerve ball at you unexpectedly. You have both physical and emotional things to deal with. 

I always worried about my times in swimming events. But this year I signed up to the Great East and Great Manchester Swims to help me build my confidence again. This year finishing is more important than my times! 

If you see me, my stroke may be a bit odd, but it is definitely freestyle. I may secretly smile if I swim past you, but will not mind if you have to overtake me. And I am pleased to report that at the Great East Swim I completed the mile in 33 minutes in windy conditions, finishing 11th out of 51 females in my age group. So not so bad!