Tusker Swim Camp 2023 – Part 1

I’ve never been on a swim camp before so wasn’t sure what to expect but what I hoped was that I would get some decent time and distance swimming in the sea, learn about nutrition and the best way to feed when you need to be quick but still take on enough carbs to keep you swimming for many more hours to come. I also hoped I would meet some awesome swimmers but, I was unsure how people would react to me being in a wheelchair.

On Thursday I was picked up by Tom who was holding the camp from the train station, and everything easily fitted in the car and we drove to where we were staying. It turned out we were staying in a Girlguiding bunk house, it had huge gardens, a big common room, a decent kitchen, multiple rooms with bunkbeds in and it even had a wheelchair accessible bathroom. Given that I can stand and walk short distances it may seem like the wheelchair accessible bathroom wasn’t a huge necessity, but it was a blessing to me, especially after our 6 hour swim. It basically meant that I could have a decent shower sitting down like I would normally at home.

I went to my room, got unpacked and organised and rested until other swimmers started arriving. I often get nervous meeting new people and being that I was having to share a room with some of them I was a little anxious about what they would be like! Turned out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about because everyone was lovely, and everyone loved swimming as much as me. Phil, our chef arrived to cook our dinner which on day one was a BBQ sitting outside looking over Porthcawl – it was beautiful.

After that we all headed down to Newton beach in Porthcawl for a swim. I had taken my stuff and said that I would do more of a dip than a swim since I had travelled all the way to Wales that same day, which is the furthest I’ve travelled solo in a wheelchair! We parked up and it was a pretty steep slope for me to walk up to get down onto the beach, when I got to the top of the hill I had to pause and just take in how beautiful the beach was. The tide was out, there were kids and teenagers playing on the sand, dogs living their best life and just sunshine and smiles everywhere. I then remembered I was there to swim and instantly knew there was no way I was getting to the water! It was like a ship had sunk in my stomach, it was going to be Yarmouth all over again, being by the sea but unable to get in it. I tried my best to hide it, but I think Tom probably saw the disappointment in my face. He asked if I thought I would be able to get in and there was no way but, the tide was on the way in so we hoped it would get close enough for me to walk a little later. I sat on the rocks as the others all got changed and headed to the water for their swim. 

Tom went and grabbed the rescue board he was borrowing for the week and then it gave us chance to have a chat as the tide came in. We spoke about what I was hoping to get from the camp, if there was something specific that I wanted to work on (there was; nutrition) whilst there. We also had a chat about how far I can/can’t walk and what I reckon I would manage before/after swims. The other swimmers had started to head back in as it had just about reached high tide. To be honest, it was still quite a walk for me so I tried to reassure Tom that I was ok with not swimming that evening, although I think I was also trying to convince myself it was for the best so that I would be able to swim the following day and not be in too much pain!

The first of the 2 swims was good fun but I definitely enjoyed the second more. It was the roughest sea I’ve ever swum in and I had my doubts on how I would cope with it. Once I was in it was tricky to settle into any kind of rhythm because the waves were not only coming from the channel but they were then bouncing off the sea wall back at us too. We swam from the slipway to the pier and back, we had one person walking along the shore as we swam and the other stayed at the slip. I was using a flag pole and lampposts to work out where I was and to help me moving forwards when I felt any tiredness. It took about 30min to swim to the pier and was clearly a nice leisurely sunny stroll for the person walking up the prom as we swam, however, when I reached the pier and turned round I noticed they were doing more of a jog and couldn’t work out why, by the time I realised I was going much quicker than before I was back at the slip! After a few ‘there and backs’ I decided I would go for one more before getting out, which should have taken me up for the 2 hour swim. However, I started swimming towards the flag, and it felt really hard work but I finally got there, I then went to swim on to the first lamppost but when I looked up the next post was the flag – again. This happened multiple times and after about 10 minutes I just couldn’t be bothered anymore and went in.

We all then headed to the pier for a group picture by the first Bristol channel swim plaque and some nosh and a hot drink before heading home (via the opticians because I stood on my glasses). 

That evening we had a talk planned from the Endurance Physio and so I wanted to get some rest beforehand and slept for a couple of hours. After Dinner, Mike, the physio arrived and gave his presentation. It was after the first bit he was talking about that I realised he may know Mike Goody (one of my crew members) and after a message I discovered he was instrumental in helping Mike during his recovery after his amputation and on his Invictus Games success – small world!

The talk was great, the big thing it did for me was reassure me that where I am is where I should be in terms of training. Living with chronic illnesses you have it drummed into you that you need to pace yourself and have to make sure you don’t end up in the ‘boom and bust’ cycle but recently, in my training, that is where I have felt like I am. It was concerning me that what I am doing is getting me into a vicious cycle that I will struggle to get out of by the time of my swim.

However, a lot about what we were told was actually about resting properly and if it takes my body a full week to recover from a big distance swim week, then that’s ok. What I need to be most careful about was not falling into the trap of trying to catch up on a week of training I’ve been unable to do because I have been resting. It was a really great talk and we had time to not only ask questions but run our thoughts and ideas by him and also all the other talented and experienced swimmers in the room. The key thing it gave me though was confidence in what I am doing, since I am self-coached.

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