At Outdoor Swimmer we often receive queries from parents who want to support their children’s interest in open water swimming but don’t know how to go about it. With a few notable exceptions, such as the Henley Mile, there is a shortage of events that specifically cater for youngsters, especially those whose inclinations are more recreational than competitive. There is also no consistent policy at commercial open water venues. Some welcome children, whereas others only allow children to swim as part of supervised club activities – and not every child wants to be (or can afford to be) a member of a competitive swimming club.
Kara Schelhase has always enjoyed swimming outdoors and was looking for an excuse to do more of it, so she came up with the idea of selecting it as her activity for her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, which she completed between May and September 2017. As far as she knows, she is the first person to select outdoor swimming for her DoE Award. She hopes many other youngsters will be inspired to do the same.
For the award, Kara swam in as many different lakes and rivers in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire as she could, while keeping a photographic record of her adventures.
“I swam in16 different venues including Wadenhoe, the river Nene (which had an amazing pontoon to jump from) and the River Beane in Hartham Common. My swims were all about savouring the moment and being outside with family and friends. Sometimes I did handstands along the river bed and I also did the inflatable obstacle course at Boxend, which was great fun.”
Kara admits that she relied heavily on her mum to ferry her to the different swimming spots and to supervise her activities. Luckily, Heather Schelhase is a very willing supporter. She is a swimming coach herself with Amanzi Open Water and a firm believer in the benefits of outdoor swimming for youngsters, as long as it is done safely. She also helped Kara define the objectives of activity as controlled breathing in open water and being able to sight effectively.
It is clear that Kara valued having fun in the water more highly than actual swimming!
“The coolest swims where the ones where there were rope swings and pontoons to jump off!” she says.
Image: Kara in the River Great Ouse at Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes, by Penny Bird