The British Long Distance Swimming Association put on several events each year, but I have never attended one before as they’re expensive. However, I wanted to end my open water season on a high so decided to take part in the event at Colwick Park in Nottingham. For this event I would be entirely independent and attend it alone. That meant I would have to travel to and stay in Nottingham, get myself to and from the event and then travel home alone – a truly terrifying thought!
Since being in a wheelchair I have had more bad experiences than good when I go to somewhere new and unknown. Accessible rooms that aren’t really accessible, assistance on trains not turning up, finding places I can’t get to because my wheelchair doesn’t fit through a door or there are no dropped curbs to cross the road. So, I have never travelled and stayed somewhere new on my own since using a wheelchair because rather than expecting things to go right I just expect them to go wrong but on this occasion, things went fairly smoothly. I have written a blog about my travelling and stay in Nottingham that can be read here.
The BLDSA swim at Colwick Park was on Saturday 2nd October and this was the first event I had ever been to completely independently. I left my hotel at 7.45am as I had never been there before and was relying on google maps and what3words. As soon as I left the hotel I was hit with a bitterly cold wind and was quickly crying as a result of the cold wind hitting my face as I was going along using my TriRide. I had a fairly uneventful journey to the country park but did have a few issues with bins and cars blocking pavements, there also seemed to be a bit of a lack of dropped curbs meaning I went up and down some roads several times but the important thing was that I got there and got there on time!
When I arrived I was told the water was 13 degrees and automatic panic alarms went off in my head because the last time I swam in water that was under 15 degrees was in April and here I was going to swim 3km in a race in water that was around 5 degrees colder than the river I had done most of my training in! The course had to be changed a little so we had a bit of a wait before the safety briefing, I was a bit worried I would miss the briefing because it was wet and muddy so I didn’t want to get stuck but thankfully they moved the safety briefing over to me so I could hear what I needed to. The main things I needed to know were the course had been shortened to a 500m loop meaning 6 laps instead of 3 and that I had to shout my number as I went pass the pontoon, also the water temperature was now around 14 rather than 13.
We eventually started to get into the water, I left my chair and TriRide to the side and covered my TriRide with my DryRobe and even remembered to put my DryRobe cushion cover on my wheelchair cushion. I used one crutch to help me down the slope into the water but as soon as I put my foot in the water on the ramp, I discovered it was far too slippy for me to get in that way. I was unsure if I would be able to make the step down next to the ramp but thankfully with someone giving me support, I managed to. Once everyone was in we all stood about waist deep waiting for someone else to submerge first, eventually someone did and the rest of us followed. There were several races happening at the same time, I believe there was a 1km, 3km, 5km and 10km but I had decided to just do the 3km. I got myself in a place I was happy with on the start ‘line’ and we were off. The first thing I noticed was just how fast some of the swimmers were, before even reaching the first buoy I had decided I would race for a PB and as close to 1 hour as possible because I stood no chance against some of the amazing swimmers that were there.
Surprisingly I didn’t get a brain freeze and the cold wasn’t actually affecting me like I thought it would, however, where I had been paying attention to others, I struggled to find a good and steady pace and just couldn’t get comfortable swimming, it felt awkward. Although when I said that to someone after I finished, I was told I looked good, so I now know that even when it feels uncomfortable my stroke is still effective.
I completed the first lap in just 10 minutes 20 seconds, and I knew straight away that I had set off too quickly and wouldn’t be able to keep that pace up so slowed my speed a little. The second lap was a little more comfortable but still felt awkward and I completed that in 10minutes 50 seconds which is closer to my usual pace that I am confident I can keep up for 3km so I tried to stick to that pace. The swim wasn’t getting any easier but it also wasn’t getting any harder so I kept going and managed to keep up a reasonably consistent pace for the rest of the 3km leaving myself enough to have a bit of a sprint finish.
When getting out of the water I thought that my legs would be rubbish because of the cold but they held up enough for me to get to my wheelchair and plonk/sit down. Thankfully I had remembered to cover things as when I got out it was raining. There were already quite a few swimmers out of the water warming up and getting changed so I honestly thought I had come last or at least close to last. We waited for the last few people to finish their swims, including one man that swam 5km Butterfly skins; his shoulders were blue when he finished!
I was starting to get concerned that if I didn’t leave the park asap I wouldn’t get out of it as there were some muddy patches and I feared that they would be getting worse the longer the rain fell for. I feared getting stuck in the mud but I wanted to stay and thankfully other swimmers offered to help me if I got stuck!
Once everyone was warm, we had the award presentation, when announcing the 3km winners I got a little confused because the 3rd place was slower than I was and I thought I was last, eventually I realised I had come first in a time of 1 hour and 5 minutes, which was an unusual and bit of a bizarre moment for me but at the same time I was absolutely thrilled.
Overall, the event was great. It was my first event with The British Long Distance Swimming Association, so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I am pleased to report that it is one of the most friendly and accessible open water events I have been to. In the lead up to the event I was in contact with the organiser ensuring that the event would be accessible to me, they helped me in terms of being able to see the actual entry spot using what 3 words so I could plan a route to the event and reassured me that they would help me if and where needed. On arrival the organisers of the event introduced themselves and asked what help I needed and made sure they had emergency contact details for me, this actually took me aback as I have never really been asked this before apart from when I have had to enter it in at registration of an event.
Throughout the event they asked if I needed any help and other swimmers also offered help if I needed it. I realised that some swimmers knew each other from previous events and when I’ve been in similar situations I have been pushed to the side and excluded but at this event it couldn’t have been anymore different. Everyone included me as if I was the same as everyone else, they didn’t see a wheelchair, they just saw another swimmer and it was so refreshing to be treated in that way.
A big thank you to the BLDSA for being so welcoming and inclusive and for a lovely event to end my race season and a reminder for everyone else:
Those with disabilities are humans, we are people and just because one part of our body is weak or even unable to move it doesn’t mean we don’t want to do things that you want to do. For me, what I want is for open water swimming clubs, events and organisations to be open and welcoming to those with disabilities so that others can experience the joy and freedom that open water swimming has given me.