Featured,  View from the Water

Susan Taylor, and the dangers of open water swimming

The plan this week was to write more about the Henley Mile Suits versus Skins challenge that took place on 14 July. It was a lot of fun, we had some great feedback and we’ve got some interesting results to analyse and share, but we’ll have to do that another time as sadly this week saw the death of another open water swimmer and that, we felt, warranted comment more.
Death was the subject of our newsletter last week too, and the question of how to keep people safe when they seek out open water spots to cool off in hot weather. This week’s death is different, not because it is any more or less tragic but because it happened to an experienced and well-trained swimmer under close observation.
When we read about deaths of non-experienced swimmers one of the thoughts that strikes us might be something like, “that couldn’t happen to me. I’m an experienced swimmer, I know how to assess risks in open water and I never swim alone.”
Susan Taylor’s death hits us differently because we think, “that could have been me.” Many people reading this newsletter knew Susan, or know someone who knew her, or know someone like her.
Jai Evans, Susan’s coach and friend, described her as follows:
“Susan was a wonderful lady. She loved open water swimming and really was an inspiration. She did so much for charity and worked very hard. She was completely dedicated to her training and the one thing that myself and many people I know will remember is how she was always smiling. A happy and positive person all the time.”
Susan was in fact a more accomplished swimmer than many of us and just last week had a mention on our website for a part in a record breaking medley relay Windermere swim.
For anyone who missed the news, Susan died on Sunday during a solo English Channel swim. She was 34. She died chasing a dream that, even if we don’t aspire to swim the Channel ourselves, we can easily identify with.
She is the second popular, well-known and experienced open water swimmer to die recently, following the death of 41-year old Jonathan Joyce on 15 June, also while swimming.
What these two tragic cases show us is that open water swimming, especially long-distance, cool-water marathon swimming, is an extreme sport with very real dangers, and anyone doing it, or considering taking it up, should be aware of the risks.
At the same time, we shouldn’t get too paranoid. In neither Susan’s nor Jonathan’s case was any of the reporting accompanied by the warnings against open water swimming that are almost mandatory with any report of the open water death of an inexperienced swimmer. And this is right. Only eight people are recorded as having died while attempting to swim the Channel since Matthew Webb first succeeded in swimming to France in 1875. Compare this to 10 deaths in two months on Mount Everest in April and May of 2012 and more than 200 deaths in total.
Swimming in general is a pretty safe pastime. The most up-to-date figures available from The Royal Life Saving Society say that in 2011, 407 people drowned in the UK (1,901 died in motor accidents in the same year). Of those 407, only 39 were known to have been purposely swimming. A far greater number in fact (87) drowned while out walking or running. Other drownings were related to angling (13), boating (36) and motor vehicles (15).
I didn’t know either Susan or Jonathan directly but many of the people I’ve come across through H2Open did. Their shock and sadness is very tangible through the news reports and especially social media. There’s also a sense of community and a determination to carry on swimming as those who do it know its worth.
If you want to make a donation to the causes Susan was swimming for you can do so athttp://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=createaripple