To be inclusive think FRIENDS

 

When you are an open water swimmer with a disability a common message and email you find yourself sending is this:

“Dear ……

I am an open water swimmer and am interested in ….(event)…however I have a disability that means I am a wheelchair user. I can walk short distances using crutches so I can get in the water and pass my crutches back, but I will need someone there with them for when I finish. Can you give me any information on what the entry to the water is; is it a beach entrance or a ramp or steps or a bank? is there a handrail? Will there be people in or by the water helping swimmers out at the end? Also, can you give me any information on disabled parking and what the walk is like from the car parking to the swim entry point? Is it grass or gravel or tarmac and can you tell me roughly how far it is? Is there somewhere safe to leave my wheelchair and crutches whilst I am swimming?

I am a confident and competent open water swimmer with many years of experience and would like to take part in your event, however I do need more information before registering.

I look forward to hearing from you

Sophie Etheridge”

I send this email to almost every event organiser before I enter an event, at first, I spent my life re-writing and re-wording the email depending on the event but I realised I was sending it so regularly that I just have it saved as a template on my laptop so I can just adapt it and copy and paste it!

Continue reading “To be inclusive think FRIENDS”

New Year, New Things!

Its been a long time since I wrote a blog, no real excuse apart from a lack of motivation to write and being busy having fun (mostly).

It’s the start of February and planning for swim events is in full swing. I have been lucky enough to have my first ever sponsored event – The Thames Marathon swim, which is a 14km swim from Henley-on-Thames to Marlow. The Cambridge Swim Company have sponsored me for this event and paid for my entry and I hope to be working with the organisation going forwards. You can find out more about the Cambridge Swim Company here – https://camswim.co

So, what have I been up to since before Christmas? The simple answer is lots!
I have, so far, managed to continue swimming in the river once a week in just my swimming costume, swim hat and goggles (under channel swim regulations). I have had lots of adventures and eventful moments, including the discovery of part of a gravestone in a rucksack dumped on the river slipway where we enter the water. At first we thought the bag may have dead body parts in so I guess we weren’t too far off…

There has been a lot of swearing, “ooo’s” and “arghhs”, “why the hell are we doing this?” and “we must be insane” when getting into the river, especially when the river got down to sub 5 temperatures! There have also been some comments like “It feels like I am being stabbed in the bum with daggers” and similar that I won’t repeat here…. (use your imagination)

We have had a lot of comments from passers-by, including a lot of “you’re braver than me” and “isn’t that really cold?”. Despite all of those things and the pain its caused me; I have never come out of the water and not had a smile on my face. I have also been enjoying that I have been able to take my phone in a waterproof case in my Swim Secure Tow donut, which has allowed me to take pictures from in the water!

More recently I have done a few swims at Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge, I have a lot of history with Cambridge, and it can be difficult for me to go there because of my CPTSD. Its been several years since I have been brave enough to go to Cambridge but with the support and help from my swim buddy Clare and a session and chat with my counsellor on what I need to do to make it slightly easier for me, I have managed it. It’s been difficult but at the same time, it has allowed me to move forwards, take back control of what happened and meant that I can do what I want to do!
I really like swimming at Jesus Green Lido, the people that work there are great, its got a lovely little cafe that do amazing hot chocolate, it is fully accessible and even has a hoist (not that I need it) and the pool itself is great! For those that haven’t been there, Jesus Green Lido is a little unusual because of its size, at 91m long it is one of the longest open-air pools in the world, however it is only 14m wide! I have often wondered why this is and after looking into it, it turns out that the lido was built to mimic swimming in the nearby river so it sort of makes sense.

Earlier this month I was also lucky enough to go for a sea swim! My winter swimming buddy, Clare, her daughter and I drove to Frinton-On-Sea as there were a group of people meeting there for a swim. We planned our day so that we arrived in Frinton-on-Sea at high tide meaning the walk to the water would be as short as possible for me and it worked perfectly. 

We easily found the ramp down to the beach and there was a gentleman just getting out of the water when we got there. He was a regular swimmer so could tell us what to look out for when in the water. By the time we had got changed and organised the water was only about 5m away from the end of the ramp, which was ideal for me but not so good for my friend’s toddler who was desperate to build a sand-castle and commented “where’s the sand? I can’t build a sand-castle with no sand”. I let my friend get in the water first whilst I looked after her little girl and then I got in for my swim. I don’t remember the last time that I swam in the sea, but it felt amazing to be back in it.

I swam a way out from the shore and just lay floating on my back looking up at the blue sky enjoying the roll of the waves and feeling utterly at peace. The water temperature was only 5.6° so I only stayed in for about 15minutes, but I loved every second. I also had the joy of being joined by a seal during the swim. I got out but decided I had enjoyed it so much I wanted to go back in so I got back in a little way but regretted it a little as I struggled to warm up afterwards – a reminder that even if you’re enjoying it, it doesn’t mean you can get back in without getting cold and suffering after!

Once we were dressed and sorted we got all our stuff together and headed down the prom a little way to meet up with the other swimmers but sadly, things didn’t exactly go to plan. We knew there were steps down onto that part of the beach but had hoped I may be able to manage them, and we could lift my chair down onto the beach too but once we were there we knew there was no chance. Instead, I sat on the prom looking down at the group of people having a great time together; it was quite upsetting and very disappointing. Before the day of the meet up I had discussed accessibility, since the ramp where we got in was only about 300m further down the prom but it was ‘too complicated to change the venue’. It was frustrating for me since where they all met wasn’t exactly far from an accessible point onto the beach and I felt bad for my friend because we travelled all that way and she couldn’t join in because despite being able to see everyone I wasn’t able to get to them.

In the end we went for a walk along the prom and I had races against my friends daughter (who is 3) with her on her scooter and me using my TriRide. We then had a play on the beach, made a sand castle before going to a little pub for lunch. Oh, and on the way back to the car we just happened to walk past an old sweet shop and I accidently happened to go through the door and buy some toffee crumble…After a day at the beach we had a very sleepy toddler in the back of the car and it gave myself and Clare time to have a chat about all things wrong in the world and about which events we wanted to enter this year!

Alongside all my swimming adventures I have continued to work on growing my Facebook group for disabled swimmers – Adaptive/Disabled Open Water Swimmers (ADOWS). We now have over 650 members and just celebrated our first year anniversary! I never dreamt the group would take off like it has or that such a lovely community would be built. I feel incredibly proud of not only people I have been able to help personally through the group but also of the members who continue to spread positivity and joy for the sport that we all love and all want and deserve equal access to. ADOWS has totally transformed my life and made me the person I am today, the opportunities it has given me are incredible, if slightly surreal. I am still working on creating an accessible swim spot map that functions better than the one on this website and have now got contacts with Ordnance Survey Maps and am hoping to work with the designer of a wild swimming phone app so watch this space! 

Ive also recently been recorded for a couple of podcasts, the first is ‘An Open Water Swimmers Podcast’ hosted by the actor and voice artist William Ellis and the second is ‘Tough Girl Podcast’ hosted by the wonderful Sarah Williams I hope that the Open Water Swimmers podcast episode will be out soon but I know that itll be a while before the Tough Girl Podcast episode with me is going to be published. If you’re interested in some new podcast listening click the pictures below!

Another big announcement for 2022 is me being announced as one of the 2022 STA Open Water Swimming Brand Ambassadors. This is an incredible opportunity for me and this time last year I could never have dreamt I would be where I am now. Being chosen as one of the STA Brand Ambassadors will allow me to work with other open water swim coaches and experts to give feedback, give suggestions on improving the work they do and the chance to discuss current issues in the open water swimming community. I hope that through this I may be able to help improve the STA Level 2 Open Water Coaching course by adding a more in depth and detailed section on dealing with swimmers who have a disability.

My final announcement is incredibly exciting, and is the reason I have chosen today to post this blog! It has been hard for me to keep secret for so long but I am pleased to announce I am now a Swim Secure Ambassador. Ever since getting back into open water swimming I have used the swim secure tow floats and I always recommend them to others because of the quality and durability of them so I am thrilled to be announced as their newest ambassador. 

You can read the introduction blog I have written for their website HERE

I really hope that I will be able to work with Swim Secure to make their products as safe and disability friendly as possible. I am also hoping that I may be able to use my contact with them to create something new. So, if you have any ideas on improving them, throw them my way and I can bring them up!

So, I have a lot planned going forwards, I am back teaching and coaching swimming and hope to get my coaching business up and running by the time lakes open again so I can offer open water coaching sessions to individuals and small groups. I am hoping to work with several different organisations on project ideas I have and meanwhile will be training for this years events, which will hopefully prepare me for taking on the Bristol Channel in 2023!

Happy Swimming All!

My first 10 Weeks of Winter Swimming

 

I have learnt many things over my first few months of winter swimming and I am so glad that I decided to set myself the challenge of swimming skins through winter. I’ve learnt so much about how my body reacts to different temperatures and situations both physically and mentally. Ive also learnt just how far I can push my body and, of course how far is too far.Continue reading “My first 10 Weeks of Winter Swimming”

Kendal Mountain Festival Part 2

 

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.

Continue reading “Kendal Mountain Festival Part 2”

Kendal Mountain Festival Part 1

 

I am not entirely sure where to begin on such an amazing weekend but I have to start somewhere so I think to begin with I will start with some thank yous:

The biggest thank you goes to my absolutely amazing sister, Laura, or my big fishy. Without Laura acting as my carer/helper for the weekend the weekend simply wouldn’t have been possible. She did so much for me behind the scenes from carrying things, helping me find things, making sure people got out the way, helped me pay for things if a checkout was too high and generally helped me conserve my energy doing basic things like drying my hair after a shower to enable me to get the most from the weekend, both from giving a good talk to all the networking I also did whilst there.

Secondly, I must thank Jenny for inviting me to talk at the festival, I wasn’t sure about attending at first since it’s the first time I have ever done something like this, but I felt that as a campaigner for more accessible open water swimming I had to take the opportunity of spreading my message on a larger platform. I also wanted to share my journey to Windermere and show what you can achieve with sheer grit and determination, and a bit of stubbornness! It didn’t matter how terrified I was I wouldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Finally, I want to thank the Kendal Mountain Festival organisers and the helpers, sound guys, the film crew, and everyone else in the background for putting on such a great and welcoming festival. I couldn’t believe that I actually saw some other wheelchair users there, there were people of all ages, all diversities, just proving that the outdoors IS for everyone. So thank you for putting on such an awesome festival!

 

So, down to business: Continue reading “Kendal Mountain Festival Part 1”

Good Days, Bad Days and some in-between…

 

I didn’t post a blog last week as I have been struggling a lot with my pain and fatigue but I am improving, a bit, and I have had the chance to get some decent swims in this week. Monday started with a tough session with BRJ in the pool and once again I struggled with my breathing, this time to the point that I finally bit the bullet on Tuesday morning and called the doctors! After seeing me, they don’t know what is going on/the cause.

Not only did I go to the doctors on Tuesday, but I also managed a second good pool session of the week. This time I went back to my Scale Swimming book and adapted one of their sessions to meet my needs and abilities. I also went back to trying to swim with my legs tethered again, as I believe this may be the best way forwards for me in rough open water conditions when not in a wetsuit.

 

Continue reading “Good Days, Bad Days and some in-between…”

World Swim Day 2021 – What swimming has done for me

Saturday was World Swim Day and I wanted to write something about what swimming has done for me.

Swimming has almost always been part of my life and without it I felt lost. I had about 5 years after my accident with no swimming and during that time my life changed drastically, I became disabled, a long-term relationship ended, I graduated from University and I moved out of Cambridge. When I started getting into swimming again, I tried desperately hard to get back to swimming in the same way as I used to, I spent about 2 years trying to swim the same way as before, constantly trying to relearn to kick my legs but after a course at Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases I realised that I didn’t need to do things the same way, I just needed to do them! Continue reading “World Swim Day 2021 – What swimming has done for me”

Winter swimming is finally here!

 

If you have followed my blog, then you will know that when I swam 2-way Windermere I was wearing a wetsuit. This was because I didn’t know how my body would react to the cold as most of the swimming I have done in open water since getting back into it 5 years ago has been in a wetsuit. I felt that at the time, for me, it was the right thing to do, a wetsuit doesn’t just help me with warmth but the added buoyancy it gives me in my legs takes the strain off my back and other muscles to keep my legs together and streamlined. Obviously, in the pool I don’t wear a wetsuit but the distances are shorter so it is not sustaining the streamline position for hours on end.

 

Continue reading “Winter swimming is finally here!”

Travelling to Nottingham in a Wheelchair

 

Last weekend was a big deal for me, it was been exciting, stressful, panic inducing, wonderful and simply fantastic.

I have always been nervous about travelling alone since I have been disabled. This is because as much as I don’t like to think it and don’t feel it, I am vulnerable. Many more things can and are more likely to happen if you’re in a wheelchair, from innocent things like a lack of dropped curbs or accessible toilets to things like being more vulnerable to crime. I have had more bad experiences when travelling than good. So, since using a wheelchair I have never travelled somewhere, stayed in a hotel on my own and got back on my own, that is, until the weekend! Continue reading “Travelling to Nottingham in a Wheelchair”

British Long Distance Swimming Association Championships, Colwick Park

 

The British Long Distance Swimming Association put on several events each year, but I have never attended one before as they’re expensive. However, I wanted to end my open water season on a high so decided to take part in the event at Colwick Park in Nottingham. For this event I would be entirely independent and attend it alone. That meant I would have to travel to and stay in Nottingham, get myself to and from the event and then travel home alone – a truly terrifying thought!Continue reading “British Long Distance Swimming Association Championships, Colwick Park”

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