EXTRA,  FEATURES,  March 2024,  Readers' Swims

Swims that shaped me: Ella Foote

Much like books we’ve read, places we’ve visited and people we’ve met, our swim experiences shape us. In this new feature we ask you to share a list of swims that have changed your life in some way. Editor Ella Foote kicks off the series.

Brownsea Island, 1980s

Much of my childhood was spent swimming, in paddling pools or the sea. Our family holiday every year was staying in Brownsea Castle on Brownsea Island in Dorset. It was my first experience of open water, where I first encountered jellyfish and seaweed and where I still love to swim today.

First swimming event, 2008

There were not many swim-only events in open water back in the early 2000s. This was one of the first, offered as a charity swim event by the British Heart Foundation. It was a mile sea swim along Brighton beach. I attempted the swim breaststroke and didn’t finish the event because of the tide and I was too slow! But this was the push I needed to improve my swimming, so I went to learn front crawl properly at my local leisure centre.

Pier to Pier, 2011

After the disaster in Brighton I relearnt to swim front crawl and returned the following year and completed my first mile sea swim in 2009. I then started doing annual sea-swimming events and in 2011 I did the Bournemouth Pier to Pier swim, which is still offered today and features on the front cover of our event supplement this month! This was also the year I went on my first swimming holiday with SwimTrek.

English Channel Relay, 2012

In 2011, open water swimming became a big part of my life. I wanted to do more and challenge myself. I started considering a solo swim across the English Channel. But after looking into the cost and commitment needed, I decided to instead apply to swim as part of a relay team for Diabetes UK. On 18 August 2012 we made it to France in 16 hours and 14 minutes. It was dark, but I got to be the one to land us on French soil.

Gulf of Corryvreckan, 2013

As part of 30 memorable swims for my 30th birthday year I swam across the Gulf of Corryvreckan in west Scotland with a group of strangers. We soon became friends who have shared many more swimming adventures since!

New York, New York, 2014

After my memorable year of swimming, I needed something to keep my spirits up so I headed to New York in January. While I was there I did my coldest swim ever (at the time) with the Coney Island Polar Bears – a NYC swim group. The water was just 2°C degrees and it was such a joy to meet people in a whole new place who also loved open water like me.

Thames Marathon, 2014

In 2014 I was offered a place in the 14km Thames Marathon. I wasn’t ready or prepared for the distance, but it was an opportunity not to be missed. It took me ages and I busted my shoulder due to poor technique – but I finished!

Little Read Door, 2014 

I went on a solo trip to Italy in September 2014 and found myself trusting a local fisherman to take me out in his boat so I could swim in all the different grottos (caves) around the Capri coast. It was a totally bonkers decision, but it paid off and had one of the best swim days ever. Also really pushed the boundaries of my swimming that trip, solo swimming in new water.  

Dip a Day December, 2015 

In 2015, I was about to be made redundant and was fed up with everything. So, I came up with a personal challenge to swim every day of December. It was transformative. It captured people’s interest and raised lots of money for Shelter, and I had the most incredible month. I went on to do this every year for the next five years and created a movement of people swimming daily in winter.  

24-hour Swim 

This event killed my event spirit. It was the last long-distance, endurance event I did. I haven’t done a long-swimming event since. I swam in relay with my pal Roger Taylor. We both swam 12 miles each, not sleeping for 24 hours. It was about 2am – after being hit on the head by a support kayak paddle – that I thought, ‘This isn’t fun anymore!’. I ended up changing my whole approach to swimming and it became more about adventure, fun and pleasure of just swimming. 

Fancy sharing swims that shaped you? Get in touch! Email: editor@outdoorswimmer.com

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Ella is renowned outdoor swimmer and journalist. As well as leading the editorial, digital and experiential outputs for Outdoor Swimmer she is also Director of Dip Advisor, a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water. Ella also teaches swimming to children and adults, is an Open Water Coach and RLSS Open Water Lifeguard.