One of the pleasures of writing about open water swimming is the opportunity it gives me to meet and talk to inspirational people. What strikes me every time is that in most cases these are ordinary people chasing extraordinary dreams. They’re not endowed with great physical strength or super powers, but they do possess incredible determination and a vision. They’ve also got the courage to boldly share their dreams, often at a stage when they’ve absolutely no idea how they will achieve them. They may even invite ridicule and they will certainly encounter scepticism.
Here are a few examples, some well known, some less so:
- Stephen Redmond – Oceans Seven
- Darren Miller – Oceans Seven
- Anna Wardley – Five Islands Challenge
- Sean Conway – Swim the length of Britain
- John Paul Matthews and John Gunn – Robben Island
When Stephen Redmond entered the race to become the first to complete Oceans Seven he was a definite outsider. Despite having swum the English and North Channels he didn’t have a strong swimming background. Nor did he have access to world class training facilities or coaches and he certainly didn’t have the money to jet around the world and take on different swims. But people united behind his vision. His local community funded some of his travels and eventually he secured the backing of Red Bull. Even Darren Miller, a competitor, chipped in with some equipment and supplies.
Miller’s story is similar. He also did not have the funds to swim around the world. His vision included raising money for a charitable foundation that he created, which he also says helped give him the determination to keep going. He too secured financial backing for his swims and travel meaning that any other donations would go straight to the foundation.
Anna Wardley also puts fundraising at the top of her priority list. Rather than swimming for the sake of swimming she swims to raise money for charity. As her final swim of her Five Island Challenge she selected the 60-mile circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight – something that only three of the greats of marathon swimming (Alison Streeter, Kevin Murphy and Mike Read) have achieved – and she was not even a swimmer until about six or seven years ago. The swim required in-depth logistical planning and a large team of volunteer supporters. When Wardley needed them, they were there.
Sean Conway’s attempt to swim the length of Britain is equally audacious. He’s not a swimmer either and it’s never been done before. He didn’t even know if it was possible, and many people thought that it wasn’t. It’s taking longer than planned but he’s still going, and he continues to receive the support of many people.
John Paul Matthews couldn’t swim front crawl until a few weeks ago and now he’s signed up to swim from Robben Island to Cape Town with his friend John Gunn. We don’t know whether he will succeed or not, but merely the fact of stating his ambition has opened doors for him. Theodore Yach, who has swum from Robben Island more times than anyone else, was in London last week. The two Johns were invited to meet him for a dinner and they can look forward to Yach’s support and help when they arrive in South Africa.
While not on the same grand scale the last story still illustrates the point. When you vocalise your dreams and start working towards them, even when you don’t know how to complete all the steps, things can and do fall into place to help you achieve them.
It’s not automatic of course. The brief summaries above hide the hours of preparation and the enormous effort that these people have put in to make their visions a reality. But I doubt any of them could have foreseen every step in the journey or known how to make everything happen that needed to happen, nor could they have known where and who support would come from.
The lesson seems clear. If you have a dream, commit to making it happen, tell people what you’re doing and start on the journey. It doesn’t matter whether you want to swim your first open water mile or do something a little bigger. Even complete swimming beginners can achieve incredible feats. And you’ll probably receive more help along the way than you imagine.