I began swimming at just 18 months old and quickly fell in love with the sport. I started in the Learn to Swim Programme and became the Southern Water Baby of the year as I was the youngest person to swim 5m. I gradually worked my way through all the Swimming Teachers Association swimming awards until I had completed them, all the way up to the Platinum award. At age 12 I also became a student swimming teacher and worked for many years with non-swimmers helping them at the beginning of their swimming journeys.
It was around this age I also began swimming competitively for the Hastings Seagulls Swimming Club, I didn’t expect to enjoy swimming competitively, I had never thought about how fast I swam apart from when doing timed swims for my learn to swim awards. However, I quickly realised it was for me, I loved it and I continued to swim for the Hastings Seagulls until the age of 17. I was focused on always doing my best, swimming the fastest I could and supporting my teammates, I managed to get up to a County standard swimmer in both 100m Breaststroke and 50m Freestyle. The final avenue of swimming I began as a teenager was lifeguarding with The Hastings voluntary lifeguards, with whom I began Open Water Swimming.
Every summer from then onwards I basically lived at the beach. We would not only do lifeguard training but also provide safety cover for several events, including rowing regattas and triathlons. Once I got my confidence up in open water I often went for a swim with friends and at the age of 16 I passed my pool and beach lifeguard qualifications.
In 2008 the Lifeguarding club decided to create a team to take on the challenge of a cross channel relay to raise funds for the club. I joined the team early on in the training and I think most people thought I would drop out and wouldn’t commit but they were wrong and I was still there at the end. I was chosen as part of the final team but sadly on the day I was extremely sea-sick and had to make the difficult decision not to swim and let the substitute take my place. That moment changed me; I became more determined and even more stubborn than before.
After all the training for the channel swim I realised how much I had fallen in love with swimming in open water, I decided to try competing in some Triathlons and continued to participate in them until the age of 19 when I was at university. In 2010 I moved to Cambridge to study Music at Anglia Ruskin University, I briefly swam with the university swimming team, joined a local community triathlon club and I also volunteered as an assistant swimming teacher at the local swim school.
In late September of 2011 I was cycling to a triathlon run training session when a car didn’t indicate and suddenly turned in-front of me, taking my front bike wheel out in the process. I was clipped onto my bike and as my bike went one way I went the other resulting in a badly sprained ankle. In some respects I was lucky and only ended up with the cuts, bruises and the sprained ankle but it ultimately resulted in me being diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. The conditions caused me so much pain that I had to stop all sports, I was using crutches full time and began using a wheelchair on long days out.
This huge change in my life took its toll and I struggled a great deal with my mental health, however in 2015 I attended a pain management programme at Addenbrookes and set myself the goal of getting back into Open Water Swimming and talking part in the Great East Swim in 2016. Part of my CRPS is that it causes me to have hypersensitive legs and feet, this means that anything touching my legs and feet hurts, including the water, wind and even just wearing trousers! Getting back into Open water was a long and extremely painful process that began with me sitting on the side of the pool with my legs and feet dangling in the water for 5 minutes due to the amount of pain the water on my legs caused. I had to gradually build up the time I could spend in the water and eventually after 2 months I was finally able to tolerate the pain enough to actually start swimming!
It felt amazing, yes, it was painful but whilst I was swimming; I felt free, I was focused on my ability rather than my disability and my whole mindset began to change. After some hard and painful training, I joined the Huntingdon BRJ Run and Tri club and started trying to get back into open water, this process was even more painful for me because of having to learn to tolerate wearing a wetsuit but with support from family, friends and members of BRJ I managed to get training in open water so that I was prepared for my first open water event in years. I ended up completing the 1 mile Great East Swim in a time of 00:36:47
As they say, the rest is history!
Since that first 1-mile swim I have gone on to complete many events and challenges including, the Thames Marathon Swim, the Aberdovey 10km at Lake Tal y Lln in North Wales, many 5km events and I even competed at the Swim England Open Water National Championships in the 3km event.
My journey with Open water swimming doesn’t stop here, I am the first wheelchair user to become a fully qualified STA Level 2 Open Water coach and I will constantly be setting myself both big and small challenges and I can’t wait to see what happens next!