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Why volunteer at an open water swimming event?

At many open water events you’ll see people in high-vis vests directing swimmers to the starting line, giving you a helping hand out of the water at the end or hanging a medal around your neck. Often, these people are volunteers. They’ve given up their time in exchange for a free lunch and a cup of coffee, or maybe a goody bag and the option for a free entry into another event.

Without volunteers, many events would struggle to exist and, from a swimmer’s perspective, it would cost a whole lot more to take part. We’re therefore very grateful that people volunteer at events so that we can swim. Yet, on the face of it, volunteering doesn’t necessarily sound like a fair exchange, so we decided to ask three people who volunteer with Henley Swim why they do it, and it turns out they get a lot more out of it then you might first think.

Ian Sall

“As an open water swimmer who has received enormous support from volunteers in the past, it’s great to have the opportunity to give something back to the sport and help others in the way I have been helped.

“The open water swimming community is full of camaraderie and swimmers tend not to hold back on letting you know what they think! It’s a great feeling knowing that what you do is really appreciated by the participants.

“It turns out that volunteering has also been a great way to catch up with old swimming friends that I haven’t seen in years!”


Anna Fitzpatrick

“I volunteered to help at the Henley Mile event in 2015. It was my first year in open water swimming so I wasn’t confident enough to enter but I wanted to see how it all went. I had a really fab day. I was a marshal herding the shoals of the swimmers up from the registration finish area up to the start. There was more walking involved than I had thought! It was a mile up to the start and then a mile back to collect the next pod. One of my fellow marshals had had the good sense to bring her bike. It was a fun day and I was inspired by the amount of people partaking and especially the ‘littluns…’ under 10. If they can do it so can I. So far the furthest I’ve swum in a pool is 800 metres and 750 metres slosh and paddle in a lake. Better get training for July.”


Lois Meredith

“I volunteered at the Henley Classic and the Henley Mile events in 2015. I had previously come to watch the events and cheer on family friends but never swum or volunteered at the events. This had given me an insight into the events and I was able to use this knowledge when volunteering. At the Classic I was positioned at the finish line, giving the swimmers a hot chocolate after they had swum. It was great to see the reactions and sense of achievement that the swimmers had on their faces once they’d completed the race. For the Mile, I had the job of getting the swimmers into the water for their allocated start time. Again it was great chatting to loads of different people and finding out the stories behind why they entered. I also calmed many swimmers of their pre-race nerves and dealt with some swimmers who had missed their set waves.

“Both races were a great experience and I learnt a lot from volunteering at them. I was also able to see the amount of hard work that goes into planning the events. As a result of volunteering, I was lucky enough to attain a part time job working after college one day a week in the run up to the events. This also has given me fantastic work experience as I have learnt many new skills that I didn’t know before. Another great incentive of volunteering is that you are able to enter one of the events for free, this has inspired me to enter the Mile this year and I’m really looking forward to my first open water swimming event. I am currently in my second year of working for Henley Swim and I am very much looking forward to volunteering at this year’s events again and would definitely recommend both volunteering and gaining some work experience through Henley Swim.”

If you’re interested in volunteering at a Henley Swim event this year, please contact Annette on annette@henleyswim.com

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.