The end is in sight – Dover Part 3

Everyone (that was awake) was excited. We were pretty sure the 3rd swim would be our final swim and I think as a result, subconsciously, we had all decided to give it absolutely everything we had. 

Dean was up and went in smiling, had an amazing swim and came out looking like the Cheshire cat and chuckling to himself because the swim hat felt amazing and been so much fun. Whilst Dean had been in the water Lee.H was getting a little over excited and was just buzzing to get back in the water. He started getting ready to take over from Dean early so was just casually walking backwards and forwards eating sweets in his gorgeous leopard print speedos.

At which point I noticed that along with some awesome tattoos he also had some rather strange ones; the word “beer” tattooed on his ankle being one example and the one that really confused me was why he had a mushroom tattooed on his arm. We got proper explanations from him for them but the only thing about it I will say here is that he had the mushroom done because he’s (and I quote) “a fun-gui”. It was finally time for Lee.H to get in for his swim and to be honest I think Lee.C and I were glad he was going to burn off some of the E-numbers swimming – no offence Lee.H!!

Dean had clearly had an incredible swim, he was so pleased with it and expected that the only bit of swimming he would have left would be a short swim to shore after the person that landed! Lee Haines seemed to be swimming just as well and strong too, we were making such good progress and it was fantastic to slowly be able to see more of the French coastline. From the speed he was going and the progress we had made over the last couple of hours we figured that Lee C would be landing at the end of his swim. We all thought it would be a great way to finish, all of us having swum 3 times.

Soon enough it was time for me to get ready to swim again. I was absolutely desperate for a wee but reluctant to go down inside the boat to use the toilet as I didn’t really want to be sick again. Instead, I got ready to swim a bit early and Dean helped me down onto the platform about 5 minutes early. I sat on the platform looking back across the channel, finally unable to see the white cliffs of dover! It was glorious sunshine; the water was clear and blue and I felt like I was sitting by the sea on holiday. Waves splashing over my knees and thighs as the boat moved up and down, I could hear and at one point see the splashes from Lee swimming next to the boat. It was a totally surreal experience, but I would love to have it again!

I finally got the go ahead to get in for my final swim and I gave it everything I had. I swam past Lee H, put my head down and swam hard for the full hour, weirdly, I felt like I was swimming in a Lazy River – it was great fun! The current was pushing me forwards, I felt like it was willing me to go faster and swim harder. It was just incredible, the sickness, the stress, everything was totally worth it in that moment. It was at one point when I looked up to sight (from habit) and got a glimpse of France that it suddenly hit me. I was finally going to be able to say I have swum the channel! After the hour I was shocked to see just how far I had swum (3.6km). The furthest I think I have EVER swum in an hour! I got out, tired, sore but I am pretty sure I was also smiling like a Cheshire cat! I felt elated, excited and although shattered and sore I was on top of the world because I knew that the only swimming I had left to do was when we landed in France!

Miles was back in the water swimming and continued to make good progress but did look like he was getting a little tired towards the end. We were all so excited and were so close but so far! Miles managed to get us close enough that Lee.C would land for us and we were really pleased with how it had played out. Dean setting off and Lee finishing us off after 3 swims each. Once Lee was in the water, he looked like he was enjoying it and we cheered him on and encouraged him. When it got to him having been in the water for 20minutes we began questioning if he was going to make it all the way to France in his last swim. He was getting tired; his stroke rate had slowed and he just looked exhausted. He started asking us how long he had left and every time he asked, we just kept telling him he had 15 minutes left, even when he didn’t – I imagine it felt like a very long 15 minutes to him because 30 minutes later he was still in the water. 

Just over half-way through Lee C’s swim Dean realised he was going to have to get back in for the final bit and land in France, personally I quite liked that the same person started and finished and that it was Dean landing simply because of the encouragement and help he had given me. Although, Dean didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it. It ended up being that Lee got stuck and just wasn’t moving anywhere and when his hour was up he was just 800m away from shore, it must have felt gut wrenching.

Before Dean got in for the last push he gave me a waterproof camera and told me I needed to take it to shore when we landed in France. He set off and some-how summoned the energy to look like he was sprinting. Tanya, the observer came up and told us all to get ready if we all wanted to go to shore after Dean had landed. I tried giving the camera to one of the guys but was informed “I had more room to put it in my swimming costume than they did to put it in their budgy smugglers”. In the end I tied it to my swimming costume and shoved it down my cleavage (sorry Di). 

We saw Dean land and all of us cheered and were told to hurry up and get to shore, Lee C helped me get down the steps and onto the platform and I was so excited and happy that I some-how managed to dive in off the back of the platform and even more impressively, the camera stayed down my cleavage when I did it!
We swam to shore and I didn’t realise quite how close we were, or how shallow the water would be. It suddenly got so shallow that I almost swam into a rock (makes a change from me swimming into trees…).

We all managed to get shore and tried to get up on the rocks for a photo, I couldn’t get to the main rock everyone was on but hankfully I managed to find a smaller and flatter rock round the back of the big one so that I could still be seen! We all cheered and were ecstatic with our achievement! 

For me it was quite emotional, and I had a few happy tears as a result. I had literally waited half my life to complete the one challenge I felt I had failed and that had always stuck with me. After being so sick when I was 15 and being unable to swim I have always remembered being told that the Channel Relay Swim wouldn’t be finished until I had done it. Well, it may have taken 14 years but now I have!

We each had a photo taken and took a few group photos and a photo of the boat from the shore and were then called to get back on the boat. We swam back to the boat and had a group photo to celebrate, I honestly thought I was going to cry.

As soon as I was back on the boat the first person I messaged was, of course my sister. 

I can’t explain the emotions or pride that I felt in that moment, but I finally felt like my unfinished business of doing a channel relay was complete. My head was racing and felt like I was floating (I know that technically I was as I was on a boat, but you get the idea). Everyone was happy, excited, proud and just absolutely buzzing from what we had accomplished. 

Back on the boat celebrating!

Dean then suddenly said “I hope this doesn’t offend you but I’ve gotta say, you’ve got bollocks girl”, I was a bit taken aback and confused so he continued with “to get on this boat after being so sick last time, knowing that you might be that sea sick again but giving it another go and being determined to swim anyway; you have my upmost respect”. How I didn’t break down into happy tears right then I have no clue. As mentioned before, Dean was there when we did the relay last time and I discovered he spent the whole time when he wasn’t swimming on the phone to either Di or my mum! He was always someone I looked up to when I was a teenager so for him to say that meant the world to me.

Not long after we had celebrated completing the swim we were told there was a solo swimmer nearby and we should cheer them on.  Still all excited we all ran to the left side of the boat where the swimmer was…if you’ve ever been on a boat or have an ounce of common sense you can guess what the boat did….after half of us had moved back to the other side of the boat we all cheered and clapped the swimmer on. It wasn’t till later we realised the swimmer was actually Sally Minty-Gravett who was in the process of becoming the first person to swim the channel over six consecutive decades, you can read more about her incredible feat here!

After cheering Sally on we all got dressed and began to settle down a bit, I believe Miles went to sleep…again. I suddenly decided I was starving and scoffed a pot of peanuts and a few ginger nuts and the other 3 were just coming down from all the excitement. It was a 2 and a half hour trip back to Dover so we sat and tried to get comfortable (my bum had gone past numb by this point). We were lucky enough to see a beautiful sunset behind the White cliffs of Dover and I sat cuddling Ruths teddy and believe I had a bit of a nap on the way back to Dover. Despite having not been sick for several hours I was still very glad to get off the boat and onto solid ground, after the excitement and buzz of having people meet us off the boat and congratulating us all that I could think about was wanting my bed!

Leaving France behind

My journey with doing an English Channel relay hasn’t been straight forwards, there has been a lot of vomit, tears, anxiety, and bloody hard work after my accident to get me back to a place where I felt strong enough to take on the challenge, but after 14 years I can now, finally, say I am a Channel Swimmer and have completed an English Channel Relay Swim!

First message to my sister after getting back on the boat!

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that has supported me and made this possible. Especially to The Hastings Voluntary Lifeguard Club who first introduced me to open water swimming as a kid and then introduced me to taking on big challenges and who gave me the chance to celebrate their 50th anniversary by taking part in another channel swim relay with old and new club members. So far we have raised £2475 but we would love to reach £3000, if you want to help us reach this target you can donate here: https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/campaign/50th-anniversary-cross-channel-swim

The Channel Relay Begins

The boats engine started, and we were off.

My first thought “make it to Shakespeare Bay without being sick”. Then it was “please, please just make it to Shakespeare Bay before being sick” and then “please, please, please just make it to Shakespeare Bay before being sick” and by that time we were at Shakespeare Bay, and I hadn’t been sick, and I didn’t feel massively sick either.

Dean was starting off the relay and had been fiddling trying to attach a glow stick to his goggles as the boat headed to Shakespeare Bay; our starting point. When we arrived, he got in the water and swam to shore, we noticed a camera flash from the cliffs above the bay and suddenly heard screaming from other members of the club, although rather than ‘good luck’ we heard something about sun cream and one of the Lees instead. Oh and that we couldn’t do the swim in less than 13 hours and 36 minutes because that’s the time they did it in last time…

The siren sounded and we all cheered as Dean entered the water, at 3.44am on Sunday 7th August and we started our swim! 

The first hour we were all excited and chatting on the boat and every now and then encouraging Dean whilst he was swimming. He made good progress, but I think at one point decided that France was in a different direction to the one the boat was taking us and started swimming away from the boat rather than next to it. Before the end of his swim the sun was already beginning to come up. Lee.H was second to swim so about half-way through Deans swim he had something to eat and offered round the Hobnobs. About 15 minutes before the first hour was up; he began to get ready to swim. It was still a little dark, so he sat fiddling with a glow stick trying to attach it to his goggles in the same way Dean had. I got the impression that despite being a little anxious, Lee couldn’t wait to get in the water and start swimming.

Once he was in, he swam past Dean and continued the strong start that Dean had made. He looked strong and very comfortable in the water. He did have a bit of an issue with the glow stick as the way he had attached it to his goggles made it flop either side of his head whenever he took a breath meaning that you couldn’t always see it. However, it didn’t really matter as throughout his swim the sun creeped up higher and higher and despite it only being 5.30am it was hot, and the sunrays glistened off the water. 

I was the next swimmer so went below deck to put on my swimming costume. It was tricky for me getting down the steps but where it was a small space you were never without something to hold onto. I got down to where the pilots were sitting at then there was a huge step down to get to the toilet. At the back there was a bed and I told myself if I was going to sleep at all then it would be there. I somehow got into my swimming costume in the tiny toilet and clambered back up the stairs. However, as soon as I got to the deck, I felt sick. I sat down and looked at the horizon behind us and tried to distract myself from being sick but in the end admitted defeat and asked what I was meant to be sick in and was handed a bucket. Less than 5 minutes later, I was sick. My fear was that if I was sick once then I wouldn’t stop being sick, just like last time. I wiped my face down. Had some water and rinsed my mouth out and sucked on a mentos fruit sweet, which seemed to help, and I felt a little better after being sick.

I finished getting ready and Dean and I had a brief natter about how I would get down to the platform and get in. We had spoken about it before, but it was difficult to figure out before the swim as we were not 100% sure what it would be like. The boat we were on; Sea Satin, had a rib boat attached to the back of it and it ended up being helpful for me. Once it was getting close to my swim change over Dean went down onto the platform and then it was my turn down the ladder. This was one of the bits I was nervous about because I couldn’t see where my feet needed to go! In the end I stepped down and Dean almost guided my feet and told me which direction I needed to move them in to get to the next step down on the ladder. I was able to lean back against the rib boat whilst doing that which took off some of the pressure and helped with my balance. Once I was on the platform I sat down and waited till I was told to get in.

It was 5.44am when I got in, but I was already hot so getting in the water was lovely. I swam past Lee and felt so at home in the water, I relaxed into the swim almost instantly. I am pretty good at swimming near a pilot boat because of doing it at Windermere and the key is normally to swim and head in the direction the bow of the boat is pointing but for some reason, like Dean, I decided France was in a different direction to the one the boat was taking us. It was difficult for me to see anything because of where the sun was so it was very frustrating but despite that I was still making up a good distance and sticking to a decent, sustainable pace. Before I knew it, my hour was up, and I wished I could stay in the water longer! 

Next up was Miles and he decided to swim on the other side of the boat, which confused me a little because I couldn’t see when he had gone past me! When I was told I could get out I realised I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out. I went to the back of the boat and had been told there was a step you could put your foot on to help push yourself up, could I find it because that would be too easy! In the end I had to go under the water to look for it. I managed to get my right foot into it so that my stronger leg was doing all the work and I had Dean standing on one side of the ladder so he grabbed my left hand/arm as I pushed up and grabbed the ladder with my right arm so I could pull myself up onto the platform. Dean helped me up the ladder and I was back on the deck – I had done it. 

View from the deck

I had been waiting 14 years for the chance to swim in the channel and I had finally done my first swim, which meant that I was going to complete a cross channel relay because there was no way I was letting the team down by saying I couldn’t swim again, no matter how bad I felt! It was a strange feeling, and to be honest I wasn’t 100% sure how I should feel because although it was progress on last time, I knew there was still a long way to go. 

Once I was back on the deck, I thought I might be cold so I had a couple of towels, a hoodie, hand warmers and even my bobble hat, I put my poncho towel on, dried off and just put a t-shirt on because I was too hot in anything else! I again tried to eat something, I had 2 ginger nut biscuits (I was told they were good for sea sickness), some peanuts and a big drink meaning that I needed the toilet so had to go below deck. Once again when I came back up onto the deck, I was sick and threw up everything I had eaten. I was also quite tired by this point and the observer, Mia, suggested I try to get some sleep, the problem being whenever I went down to where the beds were, I was sick and I wasn’t able to get onto the top deck to the comfy seats. She suggested just lying down on the deck and sleeping but it looked incredibly uncomfortable. Eventually by 7.30am as Lee.C was getting ready for his first swim I admitted defeat, put a towel down on the deck and to my surprise fell sound asleep. I woke up shivering about 40 minutes later just before Dean was due to get into the water for swim number 2 so he draped his DryRobe over my like a blanket, I turned over and went back to sleep, apparently snoring and I was later informed I looked a little like a dead body – not the nicest comment I’ve ever been given but I will admit, it was a good power nap! Thankfully no one took a picture of me, unlike the sleeping beauties below:

Dean
Miles
Lee.C

I had slept through Deans swim but when he got back on the boat he wanted his DryRobe so I got up and before I knew it Lee H had been in for half an hour and it was my turn to get ready to swim again! It was also time for my medication, which was one of the things I had been concerned about before the swim, I was worried about throwing them up straight away. Despite that, I ate a banana and took my tablets. I had never felt sea-sick whilst in the water swimming so, my theory was that if I managed to get some food and my tablets into me and could keep them down till I was in the water then they had an hour to digest before I was back on the boat feeling sick again. It worked.

After eating and having a drink I let Lee know he had 15 minutes left and that was when I saw the Jellies. There were a couple of small ones, and we tried yelling at Lee so he avoided them, but he didn’t hear us and we just got an “oh s**t” as he swam into them. It was also at that moment that the current seemed to change and it felt like we were rolling side to side. I don’t think Lee realised he was swimming either surrounded by jelly fish or seaweed; It was then that I remembered I was meant to be getting ready to get in. Where the boat was rocking, I decided to give myself more time in the change-over so Dean helped me down the ladder and I sat down on the platform, it also meant I could have a wee before swimming – peeing whilst swimming is something I struggle with (possibly too much information).

As soon as I got in, I could feel that it would be a tough swim. I hadn’t been in the water more than a couple of minutes before I saw my first Jelly fish and they just seemed to keep coming. I ended up having to swim looking forwards and with my head up for quite a bit of the swim as Dean shouted to go left or right to help me avoid as many jellyfish as possible. I knew it would be impossible for me not to get stung as the Jellies had decided to come up to play and accepting that I would be stung some-how removed the fear from it. However, at one point I looked down and saw a carpet of Jelly Fish and I will admit had a little bit of a freak out moment. Despite the minor freak out I did enjoy seeing the jelly fish, the compass Jellies were particularly pretty!

My swim was difficult and frustrating, the rolling of the waves added with trying to avoid jellyfish was exhausting and I just wasn’t going anywhere because it was bloody hard work. I only covered about 1.6km in the full hour swim and got out exhausted and frankly feeling a bit deflated, I had managed to get away with just 3 stings though and none of them were bad so that was at least a small win for me.

Next up was Miles and he was incredibly anxious about the jelly fish, he seemed quite scared that he would get stung and asked us what he was meant to do if he got stung, we all responded, “just keep swimming”.
Both Miles and Lee seemed to have a similar issue to myself in that we were putting a lot of effort in but just didn’t seem to be moving very far so their swims, for the most part in comparison to the ‘jellyfish filled swims’, their were pretty uneventful.

When Lee C was swimming, I did try eating again and sadly, again I was sick. Miles offered me some ginger cake and im not a huge fan, but I know it is good for sickness, so I had half a slice and to my surprise it did settle my stomach! We chatted and had a good catch up (10years worth of life) and we also had a laugh with Mia and celebrated the fact she had been given a pay rise, and that her nails still looked good and some other incredibly random things too! We also worked out where we were – over half-way AND we could see FRANCE.
We found out the distance we had left and how far we had already gone and worked it out that we probably all had 1 swim to go, so we were in ‘the home stretch’.

FRANCE

Dover – A waiting game

Sitting in the Guest house waiting for our slot. The hardest bit is always waiting! Early on we were told we may be going on Friday night, I began mentally preparing myself for the swim, all the ‘what if’ questions went through my head, what if I am sick? What if getting on and off the boat is too difficult? What if I struggle to get round on the boat? I couldn’t stay in one place for 18 hours! I tried to calm myself down like I always do before a big event; listen to music and try to seperate and understand why I’m having the thoughts I am so that I can reduce the risk of anything I’m worrying about.

First I needed to address sea sickness. I had become so anxious about being sick that it was starting to make me feel sick, so, I knew if I got on the boat I would automatically be sick.

My Room/Apartment in The Churchill Guest House

I had my reasons to be anxious, sea sickness is what stopped me swimming 14 years ago (2008) when I first took on the English Channel relay. I was sick for 16 hours straight and despite being 15 at the time I still remember sitting on the top deck of the boat and phoning my mum at 3am in the morning asking her if I should swim or not. If I swam but then felt too sick to swim again, the whole team would fail. If I didn’t swim, 2 years of training was utterly pointless and a waste. I decided to put the team first. I was heartbroken and it left me in a dark place, it was my first experience of failure in an event and at the time I struggled.

Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards 2008 Channel Team

In reality, looking back on it now, I may not have swum, but I had learnt so much about myself by making the decision to put the team first. So, how could I make myself less anxious about sea sickness? As daft as it sounds, simply by accepting that I would be sea sick. I have the knowledge that I can swim and do an event even if I feel like crap, am poorly and in pain. I have learnt so much through swimming events and life with a disability that whatever happened during the swim, I would swim this time, nothing would stop me. It meant that although being sick isn’t particularly pleasant I would swim because I have never been seasick while swimming so getting in and swimming would at least give me an hour of not being sick!

Next was my worry about getting on and off the boat, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, I knew roughly what the situation would be and I knew that the guys in the team would help me get back onboard. I had Dean who would help me on and off the boat and we had prepared for it the best we could. I just needed to accept that I would likely need help and it would not be elegant and that was ok. I also had worries about getting round on the boat but they were a bit stupid, its a boat. It’s not big, I didn’t need to get around because there was nowhere to go!! I was going to have my crutches on the boat if I needed them but the likelihood was that I would be able to furniture crawl the whole time anyway.

Going through those things and a few other worries in combination with listening to my event playlist calmed me and I felt ready to go, but then we got the message saying we weren’t going anywhere. The adrenaline and excitement came crashing down.

The waiting continued.

Two days later we finally got the call telling us we would be leaving at 2.30am on Sunday morning! The adrenaline was pumping again, this time having already gone through my fears and concerns it was pure excitement and adrenaline. Finally, after 14 years I was going to do a relay channel swim and actually swim, not only that, I was thrilled to be doing it with the Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards. My open water journey started with them as a teenager and although I have been through so much in the past 14 years and I hadn’t seen them for years and they had never seen me in a wheelchair, I was treated the same as everyone else, as if nothing at all had changed.

I was doing the swim with someone that taught me to swim as a kid, he then taught me to teach swimming as a teenager. Another member taught me lifeguarding as a teenager, introduced me to open water swimming and did the first channel swim with me. He is also the person that my parents blame for me always wanting to do bigger and better events and in some ways, to me as a teenager he was someone to look up to and someone that showed me you never give up. The final member of the team that I knew was a lifeguard at the pool I swam at for most of my life, he had hardly changed at all! The final member of the team was someone I had only met on Zoom and I didnt know much about him other than he was an artist, lifeguard, at one point lived in London and was also a synchronised swimmer.

(left to right) Lee Haines, Miles Coote, Lee Cornelius, Dean Baker (infront) Sophie Etheridge

I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to swim with.

I double checked that I had everything I needed and on Saturday morning headed out to the Dover Regatta to try and make myself tired enough to sleep for a few hours in the afternoon, since I would be awake all night! I had a lovely morning, I got to chat to the RLSS about a few things I have been looking into and also got to look round the small business stalls and bought a couple of presents. After that, I headed to a local pub for a big lunch so I had, had a decent meal that day. After that, it was back to the Churchill Guest House for a nap! I managed to get about 3 hours sleep but then was just too excited and the adrenaline was too much for me to be able to sleep anymore.

I got up at about 7pm and it felt like hours and hours had passed by. I put on my Sea Bands and by the time I finally got the message saying the rest of the team were on their way to Dover. I triple checked all my stuff, spoke to my parents and my sister and tried my best to distract myself from the fact that in a couple of hours time I would be sitting on a boat in the English Channel! I eventually got the message saying they were nearby and went out to meet them. We chucked everything in the car and drove to Dover Harbour, taking the scenic route. We had the tour of Dovers roundabouts…twice, before we found where we were actually meant to be!

We couldn’t work out where to park or stop and there was no one about so we called the pilot and woke him up! They had only been in the harbour for about 30 minutes and were grabbing a nap whilst they could. We took a few photos and headed down to the boat. I decided the ramp was too long for me to walk down so went down in my chair and as a result of saying I would be fine controlling my chair going down the hill that steep I ended up with lovely friction burns on my fingers and at one point thought I was going to fall out of my chair and face plant the floor. We got onto the pontoon and grabbed another photo by the boat before putting all our stuff onboard.

The boat was narrower than I remembered but that could just have been because I am much bigger now than I was then. I got on, found/claimed my seat for the journey and plonked thinking “just get out the harbour without being sick, make it to Shakespeare Bay and have the first swimmer in the water starting before you’re sick” and thankfully I did!

Once we were all organised and settled we shouted goodbye to the people onshore and we were off! After 14 years of unfinished buisness with the English Channel it was time to finish it.

Yellow Dot – Dean Baker starting the relay
White/Green Light – From the boat

This swim was to fundraise money so Hastings Voluntary Lifeguards can purchase a new rescue boat so that they can continue to offer safety cover for events and there is still time to donate – https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/campaign/50th-anniversary-cross-channel-swim

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!

Training Diary – Hastings

Day 1

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!Continue reading “Training Diary – Hastings”

Coaching Development Day at Swim Cube

 

For a couple of years now I have wanted to go to The Swim Cube to have my stroke analysed and see if there are any improvements I could make and for Christmas 2021 my parents got me a voucher to go. I was so excited about finally going and trying to understand my stroke and what small changes I can make and so that I could actually see what my legs were doing, how they were moving and what sort of impact it may be having on my stroke. However, I then saw that Swim Your Swim were doing a coach development day in collaboration with Swim Cube and it wasn’t much more expensive and since I am always looking to improve my coaching I figured why not kill 2 birds with one stone and booked it.Continue reading “Coaching Development Day at Swim Cube”

2022 Training Blog is a go!

 

Training has finally kicked in full pelt and from now on I will do weekly training blogs!

Over the past few weeks I have slowly been building up the number of swims I am doing, the distance I have covered and also how many outdoor swims I get each week too. This week I have covered a total of 14km! The last time I was in this sort of training regime was when I was training for my 2 way Windermere swim last year so, I know I am on the right lines and that this sort of training works well for me and around my health conditions.Continue reading “2022 Training Blog is a go!”

Training Update

I haven’t written a training update for several weeks now because I’ve got a bit stuck with what to write and where to start. I think every blogger and writer gets ‘writers block’ sometimes, but the key is to find out why and figure out how to fix it. For me, I think I just needed a break from writing and a couple of weeks to regroup and get settled with a training routine. So, what have I been up to over the past few weeks? Well, quite a lot actually. I am now swimming at least 5km each week as well as having one strength and conditioning session and I am also trying to get into a routine with some shorter workouts at home. What is even better is that I am actually back enjoying training too! 

February was pretty quiet in terms of outdoor swimming because of a chest infection, the weather and getting things organised in terms of having someone to swim with. I did continue my strength and conditioning sessions and also my pool training where I was working on my stroke and pace. I was also lucky enough to get a trip to the seaside where we went to Frinton One Sea again. This time I decided I wanted to try and do a decent length swim so wore my wetsuit. It was an ok day, but the current was very strong and as a result of a lack of confidence I decided to get out after just 500m. I used my Ruckraft to put my crutches and DryRobe in so that I could get back up the beach after swimming. I know it was a confidence issue and I could likely have swum further but it was a tricky situation to be in. 

At the beginning of March I also attended a coaching development day at Swim Cube, put on with Swim Your Swim, which was incredible! (blog coming soon). 

Its been a much better month swimming and training wise. My health has been better, the weather has been better and I have managed to get an outdoor swim in each week and the amount of time I am able to stay in the water has increased significantly. We have also decided that now it’s a bit warmer we would try a few different places to swim, when the sun was shining we went to the Houghton Mill. I swam here quite a bit last year and really like it, its away from the roads and busy places with lots of people. You swim upstream along the edge of a meadow and large, very expensive houses with very beautiful gardens that back onto the river. It was a nice toasty 12 degrees but rather than swimming head down front crawl Clare and I decided to make it more of a social swim. Again, I used my Ruckraft for all our stuff and we had a lovely long gentle swim and a natter about all things important in life! 

Riverside, Huntingdon
Personal Training Session
Hartford, Huntingdon

I then received an exciting package – this book; Outdoor Swimming London. This is the book that I contributed to and wrote some information about disability open water swimming for. It also has a little about me, a picture of me and details on the Facebook group I started – ADOWS. Not only is this exciting because I am in a book but it also means that I m officially a published (be it contributing) author, which is something I never in a million years thought would happen!

My swim buddy Clare was preparing to go on holiday to Fiji, but we managed to squeeze one last swim in on Monday before she left. This time we decided to go to our normal spot – Huntingdon Riverside. It was my turn to go in first (we take turns on who is going to go head-to-head with the swans and geese), thankfully the swan moved for me, however, it felt very cold in comparison to the swim just 4 days earlier! We started swimming up towards the old bridge in Huntingdon as normal but for some reason I found myself struggling. It didn’t look like there was much current when we checked safety before we got in but once we were in, we discovered it was pretty strong and I was struggling swimming doggy paddle alongside Clare who mainly swims breaststroke. We did manage to start moving forwards after swimming closer to the riverbank. We had moved about 100m before we looked back and discovered that the Swans, Geese, Ducks and Moorhens were playing follow the leader and we were the leaders! They continued to do this all the way up the river, I will admit, it was a little creepy and worrying. Despite being followed by a gang of birds we continued swimming until suddenly, we saw something flying towards us. We soon realised it was a duck, a flying duck coming into land that was heading directly at us. There was absolutely sod all we could do because the other birds were still playing following the leader! I have experience of swimming into a duck from my Windermere swim, but I had never had one fly at me and hit me in the face, there was a slight moment of “what the hell do we do?”. 

Thankfully, the duck turned and went past us and joined ‘the gang’ playing following the leader! 

We reached the “Warning Live Wire” sign (about 500m up stream) next to the river and turned back. Thankfully a man had begun feeding the ducks and swans at the pontoon a little further down the river meaning that ‘the gang’ all buggered off for food, meaning we could swim/bob/swoosh/float back gently to the exit point. It was a lovely, but bizarre swim!

Another big piece of news I have is that I am now officially coaching. I am one of a group of open water swim coaches working under The Cambridge Swim Company brand. We aim to provide expert open water swim coaching throughout Cambridgeshire at various venues and hope to offer some crash courses and swim camps during the summer. Having a group of coaches is going to allow individuals that approach the company to choose which coach and where they prefer to have sessions. It also enables us to offer sessions in a pool, lido, river, and lake allowing us to cater for our individual pupils needs and goals.I have now been working with my first pupil for a couple of weeks in the pool, have a few more weeks left and then we will be heading into Open Water together. I’ve taught 2 sessions so far and both went really well, the pupil is improving their technique and swimming front crawl further than they ever have before. Getting feedback like;

“I cannot believe the progress made in just one session. I actually feel like I will be able to swim front crawl, something I have never been able to do 🏊‍♀️ thanks Sophie!” 

has really made me smile and made all my hard work to get to this point worthwhile. It is great to be able to share my knowledge and help people reach their goals. 

Yet MORE news – I am also now officially affiliated with the Tri Wetsuit Hire Company (https://www.triwetsuithire.co.uk) and am able to offer my social media followers, group members and pupils a 10% discount. Last year I hired my wetsuit for the first time, I decided that as I was going to wear it for my Windermere swim it needed to be perfect, so I hired it for a month before then deciding to purchase it. I have no clue why I have never done it before because it worked so well for me and now I highly recommend anyone doing distance swimming in a wetsuit does similar. Obviously, hiring a wetsuit is also cheaper and it is great if you don’t actually know, if you are going to enjoy open water swimming. 

The discount code for 10% off is ADAPTSWIM10 and can be added at the checkout.

If you made it this far, well done, that’s all for now. Just keep swimming, be safe and laugh at the video below where I was video/photo bombed by a swan!

Winnies Water Wings – https://www.instagram.com/winniepoaty/

When I went to hang out with the Beavers…

 

One thing I have always been passionate about my entire life is to be kind and to give back and help where you can.

Growing up I started as a Beaver, then went into Rainbows and Girlguiding all the way up to being a Ranger. I learnt a heck of a lot with Guides and met some amazing people too so one thing I wanted to do was give back, I tried to become a young leader/leader, but it just didn’t work so when a friend asked if I would be up for giving a Beavers meeting to help them get their Disability Awareness badge I jumped (not literally) at the chance.Continue reading “When I went to hang out with the Beavers…”

2022 Events booked…and training begins!

 

This week has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and, being honest, my head has been all over the place. 

Good for my training, not so good for my pain. Continue reading “2022 Events booked…and training begins!”

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