“Swimming has enriched my life immeasurably in so many ways. I feel that I have gone through many chapters and at each stage swimming has played a part,” says long-distance swimmer Martin Webster
As a seven-year-old boy back in Pudsey, West Yorkshire the pull to swim was mainly to be part of a friendship group. Swimming was something my friends started and was the centre of life for our small group. I guess I was like most British kids in a small swim club back then, learning to swim properly, completing water survival badges, lifesaving and starting to compete. The local swim club become the centre of our lives.
Finding a talent… and more
I am not sure when it happened, but suddenly I found I had a talent, and was moving upwards in the swim hierarchy. From local club to regional training groups, to city team, from D squad to A squad. This brought structure and discipline, and success at national level brought self-confidence and belief in myself. I visited parts of the country I would have never visited had I not been competing, and it sowed seeds of wanderlust that have stayed with me to this day. Overseas travel with the national team brought a love of other cultures and showed me how different life could be, offering endless possibilities.
Falling out of love with swimming
Like all teenage swimmers though, at the age of 17 the lure of life out of the pool started to take effect. Swimming 10 times a week became unfulfilling, and I could not see a future for me in swimming.
In the late 1980s, I could not see that swimming would enable me to access further education or a rewarding career. So, I just stopped swimming, switched my social group and embarked on another life. Looking back on this now, I feel some regret, but I was a bit ‘all or nothing’ back then. When I look back on my early life now though, I see swimming gave me self confidence, a life-long fitness mentality, taught me endurance and mental toughness and how to make friends and network – great life skills!
The lost years
At 18 I left home to go to university. I then started a career, got married, started a family and travelled the world living and working. I never thought about swimming much, despite living in some beautiful places with great access to pools and water. The only thing that brought me back to swimming was the desire teach my kids to swim, but just to teach them lifesaving skills and experience the fun of water.
Fast forward to 2009. After a move back to the UK, I found myself out of work, burnt out from the stresses of corporate life and my work-life balance was truly out of kilter. I took time to rethink and recharge. A friend of mine asked me to join the local swim club. I resisted at first, but eventually agreed to go just to get back in shape. The first session was awful. My mind said one thing and my body did
the other. I was so unfit, but it spurred me on. After a couple of months some semblance of fitness came back, and I really enjoyed the camaraderie within the Masters group.
Around 2011 I entered a local open water swim in Wakefield. I had never swum open water but was open to try something different. I bought myself a wetsuit and went along with some trepidation. I remember keeping out of the way of the group and just stroking along the edges.
Finding myself in open water I pushed harder and finished second. I thought, ‘Wow, that was fun. What could I do if I trained for this?’ I was hooked!
From that point on I did a series of longer distance swims. Great Norths, Great Manchester, Human Race Series etc. Each swim finishing in the top 10 or first or second in my age. Positive reinforcement for sure. This period of my life brought focus, mental stability, fitness and rekindled my passion for swimming and a new love of the open water.
Since then, I feel my swim journey has gone stratospheric. Moving to Rapperswil, Switzerland to start a new job in 2012 marked a new phase. An annual marathon swim from Rapperswil to Zurich has been held here since the 1980s and has seen many renowned open water swimmers test their metal over the years. Swimming this race gave me the confidence to contemplate swimming the English Channel.
Joining the SwimTrek Channel and long distance training camp in Mallorca back in 2016 gave me the confidence that I could complete it. I learned so much about myself, my capabilities and capacities. This camp was also an introduction to a community. That year and subsequent years we all supported each other in success and in failure and we shared our collective knowledge and experiences.
I go back every year to be part of the group, to see others experience what I did first time, to share my experiences, to help others and to make friendships. For me it is the highlight of my swim year and outstrips any personal successes I may have. The community is the best thing about marathon swimming and so many people have helped in my journey.
Since my first English Channel swim I have completed many marathon swims, each one giving different challenges. With each of these swims I have built on my experience, and I draw upon this during each new swim. I have now learned to deal with cold, wind, rain, boredom, jellyfish, lack of sleep and feel well equipped to deal with most things the water throws at me. I started off thinking about Triple Crowns and Oceans 7s. Great achievements they are, but I am not sure I will follow that route. Respect to those
that have! These days my motivations for are simpler:
- Travel and a chance to meet other swimmers, coaches and helpers, hang out together and swim their swims, continues to be a motivation.
- Swimming more local swims. I am blessed to live in Switzerland and near Germany, Austria and Italy, so have some stunning lakes on my doorstep to choose from.
- Helping others with aspirations to do what I have done is also something I am keen to do more of.
- Pushing physical and mental boundaries continues to be a motivation. This year has been a
step up for me in distance and time. Swimming Flathead Lake in Montana (45km), with the Mark Johnston and the FLOWS team and Lake Constance/Bodensee (64km) between Austria and Germany, with Patrick Boche at Bodensee Open Water has taken my swimming to a new level. I have not reached my distance/time peak yet, so will be planning more long swims.
- Life experience has taught me the importance of balance and swimming provides a balance for me between work, family and friends. I don’t see this changing.
My journey has in a way come full circle. Swimming for me started with friendship as driving force and making new friends continues to be a huge part of that experience and my life.
Read more inspiring readers’ swim stories.