After spending the night dreaming of talking to a room full of cabbages I woke up feeling surprisingly rested but quite sore. We got up at around 8.45am as we had to head to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, it was the first meal we had had at the hotel, and it was incredibly yummy! What made it even better was the beautiful view looking out over Kendal! It was a self-service buffet style breakfast which can be a bit awkward when you’re in a wheelchair as you run the risk of tipping food on your lap which is not a good look, thankfully my sister got me everything I wanted for me so there were no wet patches in inconspicuous areas.
After eating too much we went back to our room to get ready to leave, by this time my pain killers had kicked in so I was able to do a little more for myself but I wanted to save my energy and try to keep my pain levels well controlled through the day. A decision that I have to make every day is what I can tolerate on my legs and feet because of my hypersensitivity. I decided that the bitterly cold wind would hurt my legs more than my trousers but because my left ankle and my feet were swollen and sore that I would wear flipflops but take my shoes and socks with me so that I could wear them during my talk when I was on stage!
I had a rehearsal for The Outdoor Swimmer session at 11.30am and then the actual talk started at 1pm. So, at 11am we went outside and waited for our taxi, which didn’t turn up. It got to 11.30 and there was still no sign, despite being told it was on its way. There were a few couples also waiting for a taxi but with no sign of one arriving. It got to 11.25 and my anxiety and nerves were kicking in big time, not only did it feel unprofessional to be late but also I was worried I was holding everyone up because they couldn’t do the rehearsal without me. I clearly wasn’t hiding my nerves and anxiety very well because one of the couples ended up letting us have their taxi and wished me good luck for the talk.
We eventually arrived at the Kendal Leisure Centre at about 11.45am, the lift to get to the sports hall came out at the back of the stage so my sister met me down in the hall. I went into the hall and it was HUGE and there were HUNDREDS of seats, my face must have been a right picture. I saw Ella Foote and Colin and they came over and introduced themselves and I then went over to the other speakers who were all standing looking nervously at the stage and wasn’t sure why. That was until I saw the stage and I joined them in looking nervous/terrified. I believe my initial response was “oh s**t, what have I agreed to do?!”.
Looking at the height of the stage I knew there would be more than 2 steps to get onto it, I noticed the stairs at the side and that there were about 8 of them, at which point Jenny and the stage manager came over to me. Eight steps doesn’t sound like many but when stairs are one of the things you struggle with most, you are already sore, you have balance issues, and there is nothing to hold onto as you walk up them it was quite a concern for me. They said they would work round me and do what they could to help me up.
Cath Pendleton was speaking first so she nervously went onto the stage, ran through a few questions as a sound check and then all of a sudden, her face appeared on the huge screen above the stage, at which point Winne and I looked at each other again and decided that this entire experience was going to be a little terrifying, surreal and simply a tiny bit bonkers. There was then a short film before it was my turn to talk.
Whilst the film was playing the lights were dimmed and the idea was for me to get up the stairs and into my chair in the dark so I wasn’t watched crawling up/bum shuffling down the stairs. I went and waited at the bottom of the stairs and was quite nervous about getting on the stage because had no plan B for if I couldn’t manage it. It was time and the first time I went to get on the stage I tried to use the handrails but one of them was very loose and when I went to hold it and lean on it, it moved and scared the hell out of me. As a result, I decided it would be safest for me to climb the stairs on my hands and feet, sort of scrambling up. Then the stage manager could lift my wheelchair up onto the stage for me. This worked but I learnt the hard way that the chair needed to be lifted onto the stage before I went up the stairs so that as soon as I got to the top I had somewhere to sit. I gave a sigh of relief that I had managed to get up the steps quietly in the dark and got ready to move into view and start my rehearsal/sound check.
When I went onto the stage a chair had to be moved out of the way for me so we figured out and marked the floor to where I should stop my wheelchair whilst I was being questioned. We went through a couple of questions and then all of a sudden my face appeared on the monitor just in-front of where I was sitting. I assumed this was what was being seen on the screen and the idea that, people would be seeing me close up made me even more anxious.
Once we were sorted sound wise I had the worry of getting off the stage. I had actually thought about this and decided to scrap all ideas of trying to walk down them and I would just bum shuffle down the steps one at a time, again, I would have the cover of darkness to do this due to a video being played on the screen. I felt getting off stage this way was the safest way for me and took out any risk of losing my balance or footing and falling, they lifted my chair off the stage for me and I went back over to where the other speakers were sitting anxiously waiting their turn!
After we had all done our sound check/rehearsals we only had about 30minutes before the session started so, it was time for me to brave the shoes and socks! I put them on and just as I was finishing getting them on a member of the KMF crew came up and said there was someone outside that wanted to talk with me, would it be ok for him to come in now. I of course said yes, the gentleman was visually impaired and had a beautiful black lab guide dog called Felix with him. The gentleman’s name was Ramin and he told me he had recently discovered the ADOWS Facebook group and thought it was great so wanted to meet me for a chat. We of course talked about all things open water swimming related and he began telling me about some of the negative experiences he had had and the discrimination he had faced. It is sad that I can add Ramin’s story to my list of examples that I use when people ask, “what sort of discrimination do open water swimmers with disabilities face?”.
I didn’t realise that Ramin and I had been talking so long but I was suddenly aware that the hall was filling up quickly and the nerves kicked in. I went and sat next to Cath who was on first and was clearly getting very nervous, but she aced it, like she does everything else! They spoke about her being the first person to swim an Ice Mile inside the polar Antarctic Circle, how she got involved in the BBC Documentary and they finished off talking about her epic future plans. Which includes taking part in the Great Baikal Swim Relay which is 120km relay across Lake Baikal and cross a part of Siberia on the great river Angara!
I was next, the nerves were kicking in and being blunt; I needed a wee. As Cath came off stage the light dimmed for the video and I started getting up the stairs in the most unflattering way possible. I didn’t realise how long the film was so ended up sitting on the edge of the stage waiting for a while with my throat and mouth getting so dry I ended up having to get the stage manager to bring me my drink so I could actually talk! Finally, it was my turn and I pushed on stage to lots of bright lights and lots of clapping. I wasn’t quite shaking and was trying to look calm and relaxed despite being absolutely terrified on the inside! I actually ended up having my eyes closed for most of the time because the lights were so bright! Ella Foote was the one asking me questions and I feel I answered them well and spoke about my challenges in training for my Windermere swim, about my Facebook group and about my plans for the future – The Original Triple Crown Challenge (Bristol, English and North Channel).
After my talk there was the wonderful Winnie Poaty and also Neil Agius to speak, plus a video interview with the Queen of the Channel, Chloe McCardal. We finished off the session by all returning to the stage for a final round of applause and a group photo. I felt amazing afterwards, I was so incredibly proud of myself and felt like I could do anything.
When we got off the stage several people hung around wanting to talk to us. Some people came and shook my hand telling me I am remarkable, others congratulated me on my achievements and some actually wanted a proper chat or had questions for me. First I spoke to a lady with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Fibromyalgia who was after some advice, then I was shocked to be approached by a lady who told me she had CRPS but that it affected her arms rather than her legs, she wanted some advice on desensitizing and what to do when getting spasams. I had a chat with a few other people too but we were eventually shooed out of the room as the next talk needed to get set up.
My adrenaline was sky high, I felt amazing, I felt proud that despite hating and being scared of something I did it anyway. I was honoured to meet so many incredible people and swimmers and things just couldn’t get any better.
My sister and I had a couple of things we wanted to do at Base Camp so walked into Kendal to the base camp but something weird happened on the way. I was on the phone to my mum telling her how it had gone and how amazing the experience was, and people kept stopping me in the street and congratulating me on the talk and my achievements, it felt totally bonkers and was completely surreal too! Once we were all done at Base Camp we found a lovely little Pizza Express for a celebration meal before getting a taxi back to the hotel. When we were back in the hotel my body decided it was just going to crash completely and my sister was exhausted from supporting and helping me all day so we got an early night and basically collapsed in a heap.
The next morning we got up early enough that would have time to pack after we had eaten breakfast, which was, once again delicious! We headed back to the room and got all our stuff sorted and my sister did most of the packing so that I could save my energy for the journey home. We did a couple of idiot checks to make sure we had everything and I of course made sure to pinch the free shampoo, condition, hand cream, organic soap, mending/sewing kit and what hotel doesn’t provide a shoe shiner…and it was time to go.
We had to check out by 11am but our train wasn’t until gone 12 meaning we had an hour to kill so we sat in the waiting area in the hotel.
I used the time to catch up with people and messages that I had missed over the weekend and all of a sudden, I got an alert from Trainline that said “your train has been cancelled”. So our train journey was buggered before we had even started it – yay. We spent the next 30minutes trying to figure out how we could get home and if there was a different route we could take instead of going from Oxenholme to Birmingham and Birmingham to Peterborough but the only other way had about 3 changes and we just couldn’t be dealing with that; especially as we wouldn’t have booked any assistance for those trains! In the end we decided we would get the planned train from Oxenholme to Birmingham and figure out the rest from there!
Thankfully the people at Birmingham were really helpful and although we had over an hour to wait for a train they did ensure we got on the train easily and safely. As a result of the previous train being cancelled it did mean that this train was busy, there were a couple of bikes and lots of people. At first my sister had to stand up but thankfully after a couple of stops she got a seat. By this point I was shattered and as a result I fell asleep, the journey seemed and felt never ending but we eventually got to Peterborough around 6.30pm. My dad picked us up and drove us back to my parents where we ate something and then completely crashed in bed. I was absolutely shattered, very sore and had no energy left to give and ended up sleeping till 11am the next day!
It ended up taking me a full week of resting to recover from The Kendal Mountain Festival and the travelling. I pushed myself incredibly hard and to my limit over the weekend and I was physically and emotionally exhausted and in an incredible amount of pain. However, it was worth it. I never thought I would ever be involved in something like the Kendal Mountain Festival and I feel incredibly lucky to have been asked to go and talk and I was proud to be able to raise awareness of disabled open water swimmers. I hope I did everyone in the Adaptive/Disabled Open Water Swimmers group proud too.