I woke up at 5.15am on Wednesday morning having only had a couple of hours sleep. Thankfully I had, had the sense to get everything ready on Tuesday night, including talking through my swim plan with my sister. I had also had my final sports psychology session with Helen from think.believe.perform. We had gone through my plan for the swim, come up with a second honesty question (more on that later) and one of the most important things and the thing that stuck in my head from our session was her telling me to smile and enjoy it.
I quickly scoffed a couple of slices of toast and got some pain killers inside me and we headed off to Ambleside, which was my start and finish point. In the car on the way I had my headphones on with music that helps me relax and reminds me what swimming does for me on full blast so I could shut everything and everyone else out. We got to Ambleside a little early and I was met by Jenny from the Kendal Mountain Festival and Johnathan from The Outdoor Swimmer Magazine whom, had got up ridiculously early to send me off for the biggest swim of my life. This really touched me and reminded me of how many people I had cheering me on and that believed in me.
We were supposed to be meeting Leon and the pilot of my safety boat at 6.15am but we couldn’t see anyone and by 6.30am I was getting incredibly anxious. My sister went for a walk along the promenade and saw the boat and discovered they were waiting on the pontoon for me! It was quite a walk to get there from where we parked so I had to use my wheelchair. I went down the pontoon to meet Leon and Joe, we had a brief chat about the safety procedures in-case anything did go wrong, and I needed to be pulled out of the water. After that I turned so that I could go back to the promenade at put my wetsuit on fully and make my way into the lake but as I turned one of my wheels got stuck in the gap on the pontoon – entertaining, but I hoped it wasn’t a sign of what was to come!
Once I was organised, I entered the lake, nervous and excited and trying to stay calm so that I didn’t set off too quickly. It was a beautiful calm morning; the water was as flat as a pancake and the sun was coming up giving some truly magnificent views as I was swimming. The amount of wildlife, lack of other people and the silence apart from the boat was simply captivating. I managed to set off at a reasonable and consistent pace that I was comfortable, confident, and happy with. I was making good progress as the clouds cleared and the sun came out but just before one of my feeds, I did however, have the heebie-jeebies taken out of me when I looked up to sight and had an eye staring back at me. It was of course one of my favourite animals, a duck. A very stupid duck that didn’t follow the rest of the ducks and swim out of my way, instead it decided to stop straight in-front of me so that I would come face to face with it and let out a little yelp…my sister, whom was on the boat, of course found this absolutely hilarious. After my mini heart attack and my feed, I continued swimming and ironically passed a boat called Tranquillity, at that precise moment I was feeling anything but tranquil!
Not long after this I reached the 10km point and my first ‘honesty question’.
One of the things that I had discussed with my sports psychologist was that when people ask how my pain is, I often lie. I don’t know anyone with chronic pain that doesn’t lie about their pain because we are always in pain. For this reason, Helen suggested having a couple of honesty questions, these 2 questions would be asked at regular intervals (every 4 hours) and no matter how I was feeling or what I had said at previous feeds I HAD to answer the questions honestly. My main question, which Helen came up with was “If mum asked you if you were safe to keep swimming, what would you say?”. The wording of the question was key and had to be exactly that each time because I had promised my mum that if I was in so much pain that I couldn’t focus on anything else and that I felt unsafe then I would get out of the water. I hate breaking promises, especially to my family.
Reaching the 10km point meant it was time for my first honesty question, of course, I felt great so I said I was safe to continue, especially as I had some-how managed to swim 10km over an hour quicker than I thought I would! We reached Bowness Nab and the ferry crossing and had to wait for the ferry, which I will admit was a little surreal. Once the ferry had gone past, I kept heading forwards towards Fell Foot, despite seeing the sun come up, it was very cloudy when I started swimming but finally after I had hit the 10km mark the clouds began to clear and I swapped my clear goggles to my polarised Aquasphere ones instead. I was absolutely loving the swim, it was the perfect conditions, in a beautiful location and everything just fell into place and I was most definitely smiling!
After being in the water for about 5 hours the sun had come out and was shining down on me, but the wind had begun to pick up making the water slightly choppy. It was nothing that I hadn’t dealt with in training on windy days in the river, so I was still quite happy, and my stroke didn’t have to be adapted or changed at all, if anything, it removed the feeling of boredom that was beginning to set in! Before I knew it I was swimming into the marina at Fell Foot and had completed my 1 way Windermere swim!
I was met by my parents and my sisters, partner and, of course Reggie who was totally confused because I had a swimming hat and goggles on, so he didn’t recognise me. We decided to stop for a bit at Fell Foot and I had a nice hot tomato pasta mugshot and some hot chocolate, I didn’t realise quite how hungry I was! This also gave my sister and the crew on the boat time to get off the boat for a bit and to go to the toilet! I sat in the shallows and had a nice chat with my parents about how the swim was going so far and how I was feeling. To my surprise I had finished one way 2 hours faster than I had planned to and I wasn’t feeling at all tired, in-fact, I felt great both mentally and physically!
Whilst eating my mugshot it gave me time to think about all the challenges I had overcome to get to the end of one way Windermere. As a family we have had a pretty awful year, there hasn’t been a single month where at least one member of my family has ended up in hospital. I have struggled with my pain, I suddenly found myself being a carer; despite the fact I have carers myself and I have had to deal with as much bad news as good. I also haven’t been able to see my sister as much as I would like. Despite all that, I pushed through with my training for Windermere, I focused and worked hard and with help from others around me I had already accomplished more than most thought would be possible just 4 weeks post-surgery! It is not often that I feel proud of myself and proud of what I have achieved but in that moment; I did.