I’ve always enjoyed swimming in the great outdoors, quite often if the weather is good I’ll have a quick dip and swim in the sea from Easter time until the end of September. The cold water doesn’t really faze me at all although I wouldn’t say I’m a great swimmer, I’ve just always loved the water. My mother always made sure we could swim as she didn’t learn until her 50’s which I find odd as my maternal grandmother swam competitively for the City of London in the 1920’s. Somehow it skipped a generation.
Last summer my world was rocked when my 23 year old son Alex was diagnosed with testicular cancer. At the same time we had some life changing events in our family and my lovely daughter had her world turned upside down. To say it knocked me off my feet would be a complete understatement. We initially hoped that surgery would cure the cancer but that was not to be and we ended up on the Chemo journey. Any of you who have been through this or witnessed it first hand will know it’s pretty tough.
To see your strong, kind, loving son have to go through this broke every bit of me. During this time Alex spotted a little clip on the local news that he knew I’d be interested in about a small group of women based in Wiltshire (about 40 mins from me) who had formed a Wild Swimming Group called Wilshire Wild Swimmers.
I manged to track down the organisers and sent a brief message to Kirsty who is one of the founders. Kirsty invited me to join the group for one of the regular Sunday wild swims at a beautiful little lake near Bradford On Avon that Sunday. It was an early start so armed with an old wetsuit that belonged to Alex and anything I could cobble together, off I went to meet them for 8am (I’m not good in the morning so leaving home at 7.15am in the dark was a killer).
On this occasion I had my support crew of Alex, his best pal Tom (who was my wild swim wingman that day) and my husband Neil. I arrived in the carpark and was instantly met by a group of lovely women including Sarah and Kristy who welcomed me into the group like a long lost sister. We walked to the lake and then that was it, they were getting in!
Some were in wetsuits, some in cossies (now I know we call it skins!) All shapes, sizes and ages, we were off. I ploppled my self off the pontoon and felt the cold water slowly creep through the neoprene! Tom, my lovely wingman ran down the pontoon and bombed into the lake much to everyone’s delight and my absolute horror! I did one lap of the lake and I was out. Shivering on the dry land and unable to use my hands but what joy and delight I felt, the whole of my body was alive, it was as if I had been given a drug! I struggled to get dressed and wrapped myself in many layers and from that moment I was hooked, now if I go too long without my cold swim I crave it in my bones!
Since that day I have learned so much:
- Don’t try putting on underwear after a wild swim! I now just pull on something easy and forget about the knickers. Putting on a bra with numb hands is never happening, heaven help me if I ever have an accident on the way home!
- Always have a hot drink waiting for you when you get out and if you can, have some nice cake waiting for you too.
- It doesn’t matter how long you are in, what you are wearing, you just need to do it, no one is judging you.
- I can get up at 7am on a Sunday if I have the motivation.
I am now out of my wetsuit but still wear neoprene gloves and socks. I started working my way up to skins by swimming in a wetsuit, getting out and taking it off and getting back in without it. It’s a bit annoying for my hubby who bought me a lovely new one for Christmas, but he understands.
I have had the pleasure to join a “Tribe” which is a group of the most amazing people (manly women but not all) who have supported me on my families cancer journey during the toughest time of our lives, kept me sane, shared my love of swimming, cake, tea, poetry and all things lovely. My Tribe all swim for various reasons, many struggle with their mental health or are going tough tough times too. We have a wonderful WhatsApp group that can have me rolling in laughter.
In July we are all going on a “jolly” to the river Wye where we will swim the river for the day and explore from the water and in September we are all joining the Wild Wye Swim. Whoever would have thought that I would be doing that! We have social occasions and as well as our weekly 8am Sunday swim we have extras in-between. We all dip in and out, literally!
For me, my wild swimming has given me a focus, a new challenge during an extremely hard time. I liken it to someone pressing my reset button once a week.
This evening I’m off on a swim to celebrate one year since the wonderful Sarah and Kristy had their first wild swim and started this venture. They will never know how grateful I am to them. It’s 1k in the river Avon followed by our compulsory tea and cake.
I’m proud to say I’m a wild swimmer, I love getting into cold slightly murky river water and splashing about! At 54, you’re never too old to try something new and find it could change your life. As for Alex he is also doing amazingly. He has got engaged to the most darling girl Han and they’ve bought a house together, chemo has now finished and he is now monitored every month and I’m truly grateful to the NHS, CLIC Sargent and Macmillian for all they have done for us. I’m blessed to have a son who found me a happy release and encouraged me as well as having a beautiful daughter, husband and family who tolerate my constant talking about swimming and being woken up at an ungodly hour on a Sunday.
Try it, you might just like it!