I have swum for pretty much as long as I can remember by Gillian McNulty

We love the pair of Gillian and Amanda who make up the “Sisters of Swim” 🏊‍♀️😍

I feel lucky that my parents decided that swimming was a life skill that we needed to learn from a very young age. I have fond memories of swimming underwater lengths at Edgewood Drive pool in Hucknall imagining I was a fish, and having swimming lessons at Noel Street baths (now sadly departed) although I won’t miss the hair balls on the bottom.

Diving for a brick, inflating my pyjamas, fun times. But the main thing I remember was being several lanes below my sister Amanda when we were both members of the Hucknall Falcons swimming club (our older sister chose to climb out of the pool and try her hand at judo instead). Friday nights spent in the old Hucknall swimming baths doing drills and time trials (the latter of which, being completely honest, I hated with a passion!) and Saturdays spent at swimming galas (thanks mum and dad for all the ferrying).

But it transpires I didn’t particularly enjoy the competitive side of swimming and between that and becoming a teenager and dealing with periods and hormones I didn’t really feel the love of swimming anymore. I also grew more anxious about pretty much anything in life and was suddenly convinced I would drown if I got out of my depth. I’d still swim  when on holiday but mainly to cool off from lying in the sun. I enjoyed bobbing around but found swimming lengths a tad…well…boring.

Then a global pandemic happened. And, more than that, a friend told me she wanted to try open water swimming. I knew people who swam around Nottingham and asked them for advice on the best place for a newbie to go (as well as 101 questions about equipment, temperatures, and anything else my anxious mind threw up to try and put me off).

I knew that if I wanted to try something new, I needed to drag someone along for moral support so was convinced my friend would need the same and offered to go with her. I figured I would probably only go once but she would be good to carry on after that. More fool me, she beat me to it by going on her own! Ha! But by then I had already roped my sister into coming as well (and another friend who really did only swim once and decided it wasn’t for her) so off we went to Spring Lakes and hired a wetsuit and mainly bimbled about a bit and it was just…lovely. It wasn’t boring and it wasn’t competitive, plus there were ducks and geese and herons.

So then the three of us would swim quite regularly at Spring Lakes and, one random weekend, we accidentally joined a Her Spirit Swimathon session and I knew I had found my tribe! We learned to wrap our towels in hot water bottles and to either bring or buy a hot chocolate for afterwards. Game changers.

Then in one of the many lockdowns I had a one-to-one swimming session with Mel. I wasn’t particularly bothered about swimming freestyle at that point because it had always just been a bit splashy and knackering for me (even competitively I was a breaststroker). I swam a few metres and Mel gave me the best bit of advice ever. Stop putting in so much effort with the kick because I would just knacker myself out that way! Mind blown!

So I started practicing a bit more each time I got an opportunity to swim, I had more coaching in the pool and in the lake and I found my groove. I realised that freestyle gave me the escape from my own head that I had been trying to drown out with music and podcasts on runs up to that point. Suddenly with nothing else to distract me I was just completely focusing on my breath and the feeling of pulling myself through the water. Feeling the power in my arms (and trying to remind myself to occasionally use my legs…). Still not competitive in any way, and a very steady stroke (I am not trying to win any races) but from boredom I felt like I had moved to peace. Which for my anxious brain was just such a relief. I swam most of the Summer Solstice 2.5k freestyle, interspersed with some breaststroke as I passed groups of people so I could say hello and just enjoy the atmosphere. I remember being on such a high the rest of that day.

And this is why I wanted to be a Swimathon Ambassador. Because swimming has transformed my physical and mental fitness over the last 12 months and because so many pools and open water swimming venues have had to be shut over much of that time and there hasn’t been the access to water that so many people desperately needed. I want to encourage people to find the joy that I have from finding my happy place. It doesn’t click every time, but I don’t beat myself up when that happens and just look forward to the next time. That’s one of the reasons I signed up to My Swimathon, I’ll get as many sessions in as I can over the time period in various venues. Hope to see some of you in the water (or for a hot chocolate afterwards).