Henley Outdoor Swim Festival 2022

Where do I start? It was awesome!

I spent Saturday at Sawtry Sport For All, a community sports event that allows people to try out different sports and that allows local sports clubs to try and recruit more members. It was a great day and I even got a go at table tennis (I was a bit rubbish) and Badminton, which surprisingly I was actually quite good at! Once finished at Sawtry Sport for All my dad and I drove down to Reading where we stayed in a Travelodge overnight.

My alarm went off at 6.30am for the usual event day early start! It was a beautiful and peaceful morning and actually lovely drive through the rolling countryside; we were even lucky enough to spot a hot air balloon in the distance. We arrived at the event car park and as previously arranged, blue badge holders parked almost in the event village meaning less walking or pushing. This wasn’t a normal event for me, I don’t often do relay events and have certainly never done an event like the UNLTD event where I would be working with another person and trying to swim as many times as possible through the day. First stop – Find Jonty, my relay partner for the day who had already picked up our race pack. We discussed our plan for the day and where we were going to do the relay hand-over.

We had decided and arranged to meet by The Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and the first thing I noticed was my picture on their sign; it was a little surreal but also made me incredibly proud and reminded me of how far I have come in just a year.

Jonty had brought a blow-up gazebo with him, so we decided to squeeze it in next to the outdoor swimmer stand and made it out ‘change over’ point for the rest of the day. Once we had set up, we went for our race briefing with the other UNLTD swimmers and had a photoshoot, Jonty and I were also introduced the man that would be driving my wheelchair backwards and forwards and Jontys leg and made sure that we had everything in place so we knew we would be able to complete the relay.

I got ready, had lots of sun cream put on and went to the start using my TriRide, I decided to start as part of the Mass Start rather than waiting for the rolling start that was a few minutes later. I wanted to get a good start for the ADOWS Originals team, and I did. I managed to get myself into a good spot at the start and knew that if I stayed closer to the bank that I would likely have more room and I wouldn’t swim more than the distance I was supposed to. However, I knew I was going to likely have to swim at least 3 miles that day so I didn’t want to set off too hard. I stuck to my usual trick in races and just aimed to overtake the person that was in-front of me, one person at a time trying to move forwards through the crowd. I wanted to get a decent time; my aim for the day being that I swam every mile under 40 minutes. I was thrilled when my first mile time was 36.17, I had started off the day with a 2 minute PB! I got to the end and my wheelchair and TriRide were waiting for me, I took the chip off my leg and sped back to our Gazebo to hand the chip over to Jonty. He went off on his way and during the ‘rest’ time I ate breakfast, had my medication and I also visited a couple of stands. 

The first stand I went to was the STA stand, partly becauseI wanted to meet some of the people I have spoken to through Zoom as an STA Open Water Ambassador, I also had a couple of questions for them. We had a good chat and I also played their hook a duck and won my friends daughter a book – I love her to bits but not enough to give her the duck! After that fun I went and moved mine and Jontys picture up the board and on my way back to our gazebo was lucky enough to see one of the Almost Syncro performances. I just had time to grab some for food, drink and get another layer of suncream applied and to wait for Jonty to reappear after his leg (see what I did there…?). 

My second swim was significantly slower I think it is because I was simply enjoying it too much! I kept finding myself slowing down to look at things both in and out of the water, I did also find myself swimming through some weeds and as a result got a lump of weed down my cleavage – not the most comfortable thing in the world! Despite that, I still did it in under the 40minutes – just; 39.11! I zoomed back to the event village using my TriRide making people smile and laugh as I went and once again handed the chip over to Jonty for his second leg (I was on form with my leg jokes on Sunday!). I knew that this was the moment I would get the longest break, it was time for lunch and more importantly it was time for the ADOWS meet up!  

My first step was getting lunch; I managed to find a yummy food stand and god knows why but I ordered a ham and cheese toasty and a chocolate brownie flapjack. So hot toast and melting chocolate in 28° – such a muppet!

Unfortunately, only a couple of people turned up for the actual ADOWS meet up, I saw other members throughout the day but not the actual meet which was a huge shame but the few that did turn up did nothing but smile the entire time and that’s what is important. It is always great to meet new swimmers but its somehow more meaningful and special to meet people that you have spoken with in a group you created who have the same mindset and attitudes as you. I had accidently left my phone in the sun, and it was so hot that it over heated and turned itself off so we couldn’t get any photos. After lunch, someone took some photos and after lots of smiles we headed up to the start line. It is quite a walk to get to the start and if it wasn’t for my TriRide I doubt I would have managed to get there. I was very aware that I needed to get a decent swim in as Jonty was unable to get in the water for his final swim unless I had given him our chip before 3pm. Sadly it meant I was unable to swim with the other ADOWS members but I did complete my 3rd sub 40min mile of the day comfortably.

 I raced back to the event village to give the timing chip to Jonty to discover my dad enjoying the sun sitting in his chair; jonty had already left. I again raced through the event village towards the start line to find Jonty and gave him the chip. I decided to stay with him and went to the start with him and we got there in plenty of time. We were chatting to the guy that had been driving the van with my chair and jontys leg in backwards and forwards all day and as it was so hot I cheekily asked if I could do another swim despite me not having the chip. They didn’t see why not so I got in and swam my 4th and final mile of the day. This swim was more of a leisurely swim and I was doing it simply to cool down and so I could take a bit more time. It was during this swim that I realised how lovely and pretty the swim actually was. 

I went back to swimming front crawl and was minding my own business when all of a sudden 2 people went flying past me followed by a dog. A little confused I stopped to watch, it was incredible and a little disheartening at the fact I had just been over taken by a dog, that’s right, A DOG! The dogs name was Poppy and she was a black Labrador and absolutely beautiful she swam the full 1 mile (in a life jacket) with her owners and then proudly walked round with her medal and posed for photos! Unfortunately, me stopping at the surprise of seeing a dog over taking me mean that my last mile swim ended up being 40.02. So, Poppy you’re beautiful and gorgeous and clever but damn you for those 2 seconds!

Despite being 2 seconds over my max time for all my swims for the day I did finish on a high. Poppy had made me smile and reminded me that getting distracted, even by weird things can cost you time. Jonty was waiting for me as I crossed the finish line, as were some of the other UNLTD swimmers, I also got to meet some mermaids and saw a few other friends. The final UNLTD finisher came in not long after me having just completed her TENTH MILE of the day! I wandered back to the event village chatting with both new and old friends whilst Jonty got a lift in the van, he went and had a massage whilst I went and saw a few other friends and stalls. I also got to see the ADOWS members again and see how they got on in their swims; they all did amazingly well and loved it! The UNLTD participants had a few more photos taken and then I finally got my well-deserved (in my opinion) ice cream!

Thank you to everyone that supported me from the driver of the van to people that applied multiple layers of sun-cream and perhaps most importantly Jonty for being my relay partner for the day and my dad for all the driving he did so I could attend the event!

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