On Monday morning we packed the car up with mine, my parents and Regies bags and a few food items before heading off on the road. We got away by about 11am and although I was looking forwards to an intense week of training, I was quite anxious about simply going to Hastings. The trip was originally going to be on my own and I would stay in a hotel, but I couldn’t find anywhere accessible to stay so my parents and I booked Combe Haven. This was my first visit to Hastings in a wheelchair, having grown up fully able bodied in Hastings I was a little nervous that all the places I used to go, I wouldn’t be able to get to!
We arrived at the caravan site early afternoon and I quickly unpacked as I hadn’t wasted any time in organising and going for my first sea swim of the holiday! On Monday evening I arranged to meet up with the St.Leonards Bluetits and more excitingly I was meeting one of the members of ADOWS for a swim and I couldn’t wait!
We arrived at the beach and the sea was as flat as a pancake, it was a glorious evening and here were just no waves at all. Charlotte came and met me on the prom but didn’t realise I was a wheelchair user but she was able to help move my chair to near where they were sitting on the beach and I struggled along behind using my walking stick. I never realised how difficult walking on a shingle beach was until that moment!
I was expecting just a dip but as it was so flat we decided to swim to the buoy and back, and did so successfully with some very smiley faces! What was really lovely was that Charlotte and I took our time swimming back and just chatted about swimming and life in general, it was like we had known each other for ages!
After the swim and after Reggie had, had a play on the beach and a bit of a swim we headed to the closest fish and chip shop, got a takeaway and went home to eat it in the caravan. After eating it wasn’t long till we all collapsed in a heap snoring our heads off!
As a result of tides and currents to get a swim in I needed to be at the beach as close to 9.30am as possible. I got up and was ready and raring to go, that was until I looked out the window and it was grey and frankly a little miserable! Despite that, I got all my swim stuff sorted and headed to the beach. This was the first time in 8 years that I had tried to get round Hastings/St Leonards on my own and the first time I was using my TriRide to help me. To say it was ‘interesting’ was an understatement as the difficulties began before I even managed to get out the gate of the caravan site! There was a pedestrian exit at the bottom of the caravan site where we were staying and this brought us out onto the road I needed to go along to get to the beach. However, the gate was up a small, uneven grass bank and as a result I had a moment of ‘crap, im going to tip over in my chair’. I then discovered that I couldn’t get to the crossing I needed to because there were no drop curbs; as a result I had to go back past the entrance to the caravan site and cross at an island, this took about 5 minutes because the road was so busy and no one would let me out. I was, eventually, on my way! I managed to get along the main road and bit of pavement with only a few slight drop curb issues but I found another curb I couldn’t get up and so I had to turn down the road and find a different way. By this time I was already late to meet people, I finally arrived about 15 minutes late and thankfully and kindly, Charlotte had waited for me instead of going swimming with the others and I was so grateful to her.
This time I took my crutches with me to try and make it a bit easier getting down to the beach, it did help a bit but it was still tricky and painful for me. The waves had picked up dramatically and being honest I wasn’t sure how I would manage to get in and out, but being somewhere with several people about and with someone that knew the area and currents really well was reassuring. It was a bit tricky getting in due to the size of the waves and Charlotte actually got knocked over but we finally manged to get in and started swimming. The waves were lifting us up and dropping us down, coming from several different directions and I was struggling to ‘read’ them and as a result felt a little disorientated at one point. We decided to head back as the waves were continuing to get bigger and the current was getting stronger and I still didn’t have much confidence. We got out after just 15minutes and did around 500m, I was disappointed. However, I learnt/remembered a lot about swimming in the sea, the most important thing – don’t fight it because you will never win. I felt a bit of a muppet forgetting it because I constantly say it to my pupils, but I guess sometimes we all need reminders!
After the swim Charlotte and I went for a coffee and spent a couple of hours chatting away and I completely lost track of time, it was like we had known each other for months rather than only having met for an hour or so the previous day! My parents came to pick me up and we went to Alexandra Park to take Reggie for a nice run. We then headed back to the caravan site because I needed to get showered and changed ready for a meal with one of my oldest friends. On Tuesday evening I went out for dinner with Jenn and it was like nothing had changed, we haven’t seen each other for years but it didn’t matter! Chatting while eating a meal was no where near long enough for a catch up but sadly that was all we had. After a lovely evening and the most delicious dessert she dropped me back to where we were staying. I then headed straight to bed!
Wednesday was planned as a day to see another friend, Fran, whom I went to college with. Fran is one of the few people I have continued to stay in touch with ever since we met, despite the distance, we have always found a way. My parents took me to Eastbourne to see Fran and went off and took Reggie for a nice long walk. Fran and I went to the pub – obviously! Again, it was a lovely catch up. On the way home we stopped at Pevensy Bay so that I could go for a short sea swim. I struggled to get down the beach and for the first time was swimming on my own with a spotter on land that could easily see me thanks to my Swim Secure Tow Donut.
The sea was rough and getting rougher, but I stayed close to shore and had a particular point I told my spotter I was aiming for (a buoy). Doing this swim and only having to worry about myself was a turning point, I finally felt at one with the sea again. Everything came flooding back, all those days in the sea growing up came back to me and I felt like I was swimming instead of fighting. Again, it was only a short swim, but it was well worth it! After a busy day I went home, had dinner and was in bed snoring by 8pm!
The last swimming day! It was another early start and I was exhausted and so sore but I knew it was my last chance for a swim so I took some extra pain killers and pushed through. I headed back to the beach to meet Charlotte and a few others, again and we were planning a longer swim, I also took my Ruckraft so that I could use my crutches all the way into the sea and then put them in the Raft and swim with them. On the way to the beach I had a few issues, the main one being a face down with a white van man. There was a man parked over the entire pavement and no drop curbs nearby meaning I was stuck. I sat trying to get his attention (he was sitting on his phone in the van) but with no success. In the end I had to bang on the hood of the van to get his attention and he didn’t see what the problem was but I told him he had to move and eventually he did. These sorts of incidents are pretty common in a wheelchair, but it doesn’t make it less frustrating when it happens!
I eventually arrived at the beach almost half an hour late, meaning most people were in the water or had been and gone. Again, Charlotte had kindly waited for me.
Walking down the beach and into the water with 2 crutches was much easier, it helped with my balance and meant that I could stop myself getting pushed over by the waves breaking on the way to the shore. The issue I had was getting the crutches in the ruckraft whilst in the sea. Tip – don’t try to put anything in a ruckraft when treading water in the sea, the dry back just ends up full of water. After a few minutes fighting with my crutches and the raft and me dropping one of my crutches in the sea and almost losing it we finally got the raft done up and secure.
We set off on our swim and although at first, I once again tried fighting the waves I quickly remembered to stop being a plonker and to work with the waves and currents rather than against them. As soon as I did that, I loved it and felt at ease. I was much slower than Charlotte but I was happily swimming along behind her. We swam with the current behind us for a while but were worried it was getting stronger and we may not be able to get back so we went back to the part of the beach we got in at and then swam the other way and decided to do laps from the beach to an easily visable church – against the current on the way there, with the current on the way back. I was absolutely loving it and wanted to keep going but Charlotte isn’t as good with the cold as me so she needed to get out. In the end I did a second ‘lap’ and wanted to do a 3rd lap too but the waves were getting bigger as the wind was picking up and as a result I worried I may struggle with getting out so called it quits just to be safe.
I did 1.5km, so it was my longest swim of the week and a great way to finish off my intense training week. Despite the waves and wind picking up it was still sunny on the beach, so we stayed and chatted for a bit afterwards and then
I headed to the coffee shop to meet someone important and exciting – a graphic designer.
More information on the exciting project we are working on will be coming soon!
I was also then lucky enough to meet up with another friend and no matter how brief I always love seeing Yasmin. Yasmin is a chronic illness warrior and has gone through more than most go through in their entire life, and she isn’t even 30 yet. We first met at the start of secondary school and were friends all the way through, I have so many happy and funny memories with her, including dancing to the YMCA on a table whilst revising for our Music GCSE and sniggering/trying not to laugh during the exam when the YMCA was played. Sadly, Yasmin’s health has been deteriorating over time and she has had a really rough ride, but even though our conditions are different, we have an understanding that others just can’t get.
After seeing Yasmin I had one more thing on my list of ‘to dos’, visit where I used to swim growing up, where I spent most of my teenage years, before university, before my accident and before I was disabled. Rock n Ore.
This was the base for The Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards when I was growing up, its where I first started open water swimming, its where I trained for a channel relay swim, where I did my beach lifeguard, where I learnt so much about and fell in love with open water swimming. If I was stressed or upset about something as I was growing up I would just go and sit on the beach to think and clear my head so returning to this place as a disabled person was a little emotional. There were some changes, but not many. The tide was out leaving the beautiful cliffs and rocks in full view and just looking at the beach I realised I would never manage to get down to the water or to even sit on the beach for a bit. Although my visit to Rock n Ore was short, it brought back what it was like for me swimming in the sea when I could use my legs properly, when I could easily get up and down a beach and even carry ‘casualties’ out of the water. When I was the person that was helping rather than needing help. For me, visiting here was closure.
I may not be that person anymore but, that’s ok because I am still lucky enough to be doing the things I love and I am the best version of me and, I am enough.
After the emotional visit to Rock n Ore, I went to meet my parents and we (including Reggie) had an ice cream on the beach before going back to get showered and changed. As it was our final evening, we had been invited out to dinner by my friend Fran with her lovely daughter Madison, we had a great meal in a nice little pub before heading back to the caravan to start packing.
We woke early (why do you always have to be out of a holiday place early…?!), to get up and finish packing the car, we managed to be off the site by 10am as planned as I had an important meeting at 11. We arrived where we were meeting and my mum and I went and waited inside, it was strange but I was almost nervous seeing the people we were meeting from Lifeguards because it had been so many years and I don’t remember seeing them in person when I was in a wheelchair before. They arrived and after a catch up we started discussing their attempt on an English Channel Relay that I had been asked if I would like to take part in. I had a few questions about it, including how do I get on and off the boat and ultimately decided that I would go for it so in the first week of August I am now part of The Hastings Lifeguards Channel Relay Team. Hopefully, this time I wont’ be sea sick for 14 hours!
Once the meeting was done it was time to go home, it was an awful journey due to an accident on the road so it took 2 hours longer than normal, but we got home safe, which is the main thing.
Hastings was emotional, exhausting, painful and fabulous all at the same time. I didn’t get the swims I wanted to do done, but the shorter swims were great and helpful anyway, so it didn’t matter. I felt like I could have swum for much longer and that is the important thing. Seeing a few friends was lovely and its great to see how well everyone is doing. Signing up and agreeing to attempt a channel relay was exciting and meeting Charlotte from my Facebook group was awesome.
There are so many exciting things coming my way this summer and I can’t wait!