FEATURES,  Features,  Opinion

Ice swimmer beaten by a flight of stairs

In the morning, adaptive athlete Sophie Etheridge took her first ever ice swim, posing with the obligatory ‘holding a piece of ice’ photo. By the evening she was left stranded by a flight of stairs at a Christmas party…

When you live with a disability you know there are always going to be things that you can’t do or struggle to do. There are places that won’t be accessible, people who won’t understand and problems you simply can’t overcome. However, it also sometimes means that there are things that you can do that those without a disability can’t or simply won’t do.

A great example of this is open water swimming. I love it; it’s my passion, my job, my happy place and it makes me who I am. But there are people who think I am bonkers and who would never even dream of getting into open water. 

Through the winter I consider myself more of a dipper than a swimmer. I do it for fun, not for training (all that moves into the pool). At the weekend, I did my coldest swim yet. It was just 1.9 degrees in the water, and we had to break the ice using my crutches to get into the river! 

It was my first proper ice swim – so, of course, I took the obligatory ‘holding a piece of ice’ photo. The dip was a mixture of pain and happiness. The sense of achievement at getting into water that cold was huge, especially as it is something I never thought I would do due to the hypersensitivity in my legs. After the swim it took me an hour or so to warm up, but I was feeling incredible!

“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses”

Later that day, I had a Christmas party. I was anxious as I wasn’t sure who else would be there or what the access was like. I knew there was going to be a small flight of stairs, which people could help me up as the disco was upstairs and there was no lift. It wasn’t until I arrived that I saw the stairs and I realised there was no way in hell I was getting up them; with or without support, it was not happening. 

After the meal the disco started upstairs and, as soon as it did, I found myself sitting at a table in the corner looking at a flight of stairs and hearing everybody else having fun upstairs. It was horrible; I felt invisible and, as a result, I ordered a taxi and went home.

The reason I am telling you these things is that a lot of people assume outright that swimming outdoors with a disability isn’t possible; that it isn’t accessible and is dangerous. When in reality, there are many more inaccessible things than swimming outdoors – and as long as you have experience, know how to stay safe and you pick your swim spot well, the skies are the limit. 

Adaptive athlete Sophie Etheridge writes a monthly column for Outdoor Swimmer. Pick up a copy of the latest issue to read her features.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.