A few weeks ago it became official that I won a place on the Henley Mile for This Girl Can campaign. Well what a few weeks it’s been. I’ve been absolutely blown away by all the encouragement I have received. Comments ranging from how amazing and brave I am, to family being proud of me to friends thinking I am a bit crazy for taking on this challenge. I am wondering if these people really know me, as I am really nervous just thinking about swimming the distance, let alone swimming in a river. This is a massive challenge for me, as it was not too long ago that I would panic when I put my face in the water. I believe that it is good to challenge yourself and take on a journey, even if at the time you can not quite see how you will get to the end goal.
I must admit at this point in time, a mile of continuous swimming seems a bit too much of a challenge. I am wondering what on earth I have I let myself in for. However I am very determined that I will give it my best shot, and with all the wonderful comments I have had, I can’t let anyone down now.
Since last September, I have been swimming weekly with Amanzi Open Water Swimming which is a pool based training session focusing on open water skills and techniques. Heather who runs Amanzi is so excited for me and can’t wait to have me join her in the open water. The lakes have just opened, but at this point in time I don’t have a wetsuit and I have Mum taxi duties at the same time as the lake swim sessions are on. Secretly I am thinking what a relief. However, after dropping off my eldest I was going to be passing the local lake, which I knew Heather had swam at earlier. It made sense to check out the lake which I will be training in. I love challenges, but I always get nervous, so if I know where I am going and what the environment is like then that’s something less to worry about. To my delight Heather was still at the lake and was delighted to see me checking out the area. I met a guy who had just done his second swim and told me ‘it is the best thing’ he had ever done in his life. Well this is making the challenge quite exciting, even if I am looking at the lake thinking how on earth am I going to be able swim in that, there are no black lines to follow, there is no wall to hold onto to and I’m cold just looking at the lake stood in my coat! Suddenly two fellow swimmers appeared from the changing rooms and their energy after their swims in the lake was amazing and very contagious. Goodness, if this what swimming in the outdoors does, then I just can’t wait.
The next step is sorting out a wetsuit. A friend very kindly offered to lend me one for the following week, but how on earth do you get a wetsuit on? Well I need not have worried as I was given a full lesson on how to put the wetsuit on. There I was, in the middle of my living room, wearing just a swimsuit with my friend helping me wiggle into a wetsuit. ‘You need to make sure you pull it right up and have no bagging in that area’. Well I never laughed so much on a Monday morning. Once on, I felt ready to get into the lake.
Saturday morning the alarm goes off at 5.30am. It is a beautiful morning and arriving at the lake are seasoned swimmers who clearly enjoy the opening of the lakes for swimming. A local company were promoting wetsuits which we could try in the water. I thought this would be a great idea to get a feel for how it would feel swimming in a good fitting wetsuit. I was given help to get this tight fitting suit on. Wow, it really pulls everything in, however I felt like one of pack. We took a few photos all smiling, and then it was time to get into the lake.
The others got into the water first and all looked quite at ease in the dark water. This is it, time to dip more than my toe in the water. As soon as my feet hit the water I could not believe how cold it was. Very slowly, and I really do mean very slowly, I lowered myself into this cold lake. Oh, my goodness, I could hardly breathe for the coldness really took my breathe away. I was then told to ‘flush my wetsuit’, which is when you let a bit of water in the top of the wetsuit. Whoa!!! This water must be freezing, but I can’t see any ice. Ok, I am sure I should be warming up now, however, I am just getting colder and colder. I try and put my face in the water and can not see the bottom of the lake. The other swimmers swim off and I can barely move. How can they just swim in this cold lake? Heather kindly stays with me and tries to clam me down. Eventually I manage a bit a breast stroke then have to stop as my heart rate was so high I could not control my breathing. I was taught that I could just sit down in the lake as the wetsuit kept me afloat. Well this was actually quite a relief. I then managed a bit of doggy paddle, which may sound funny, but we practice it the open water swim lessons for technique. Eventually I swam half a circuit with a strange combination of the doggy paddle, breast stroke and sitting in the water, when I lady stopped swimming and started talking to me and giving me words of encouragement whilst I was floating in the lake, still hardly able to talk. Well, I have experienced this whilst cycling and walking, but I never expected it in the middle of a lake. Time moved very slowly and I could see the end. I could not get to the ladder quick enough. Gosh it seemed to take ages to actually be able to actually reach it to hold onto it. Very slowly I dragged myself out of the water and crawled along the pier. I was so cold I could barely walk in a straight line whilst heading to get myself a warm cup of tea. That tea was the hardest cup to drink as my hands were shaking so much. I had sorts of thoughts running through my head. How do others not feel the cold? How do they even put their faces in the water? How on earth do I get out of this wetsuit? How can I do this?
I asked for help getting the wetsuit off. This seemed quite normal as people were asking others to do them up before going in, so surely it was the same afterwards. My hands were bright red from the cold. It was time for a nice warm shower. There was plenty of excited chatter going on in the changing rooms. Chat about the swim and the goals for the season. I was asked about my swim. ‘Awful’, was all I could say. The response was quite unexpected. Rather just than just a one word reply back, I was told about this ladies’ experience, and how she too felt the cold and wore a thermal vest, boots and gloves. She reaffirmed what Heather had said and that everything I had experienced was perfectly normal for a first swim and that it will get better. On leaving the lake the lady who was loaning the wetsuits also told me about her experience and again reassured me that it would get better. I thought I would be laughed at as I was the only one who could not swim all the way round, except the opposite happened and others saw my struggle and offered their help, encouragement and words of wisdom, and this was from people who I had never met before. I was humbled, but very unsure how I could make this challenge work. Would I really be ever able to get back in the water?
Myself and Heather chatted in the car on the way back home and she also opened up and told me of her experiences and some of others too. I learnt that we all have a story and challenges. Some challenges we create for ourselves and others life throws at us. But really, would I ever get back in that water?
Heather had a plan. She asked a friend to lend me some thermal boots, gloves and a hat and was going to pick me up the following day with her friend and we would all go to a different lake and try again. There was no backing out, or time to come up with an excuse not to go. I needed to face my fears and try to overcome them, so I set my alarm bright and early for the following day and try and get some sleep to do it all again tomorrow.