My earliest memories of swimming mostly involve my dad and my sisters by EJ Mew

We would regularly all bundle into the car to the local swimming pool when Mum was working at the weekends. I have great memories of spending lots of time underwater doing handstands and somersaults and also teaching my dad how to swim. I only found out recently when swimming with my sister about my dad’s motivation to learn how to swim. When I was just over a year old, I was out with my 2 older sisters and dad feeding ducks in a canal. We were feeding them bread and I decided I wanted to follow the bread into the water.

My sisters recalls that my dad at this point couldn’t swim so it was not safe for him to come in after me and I was not old enough to be told to hang onto something. Luckily for my dad and myself I was wearing dungarees and when I bobbed back up to the surface my dad was able to grab onto these and pull me out. My sister says it seemed like it took ages for me to come up to the surface and dad was really worried.

My sister is 4-years older than me, and it is one of her earliest memories. After that day my dad promised to learn to swim, so he started to learn at the same time as us. I remember being in Primary school and teaching him to swim front crawl and also how to dive in at the deep end.

I am also of the age that at Primary School we were taken each week to the same local swimming pool. All of the pupils in the small village school were packed onto a bus each Wednesday morning and off we went to the pool. This was the highlight of my week at school, and I was quickly following my sisters into the deep end of the pool as I moved up the groups and stages of swimming. Highlights are swimming in pyjamas for personal survival awards and picking the black brick off the bottom of the deep end.

At secondary school we were lucky to have our own pool, this pool was inside and apparently heated, if you can count the very thin roof and economic heating! I feel this pool prepared me well for the cold waters of open water swimming. While at school in the senior years we would regularly swim before school just myself some friends and my sisters. We all had our bronze medallion life saving and were allowed in the pool without supervision, not sure this would be able to happen in 2021!!

My first outdoor open water experiences were with my grandma who used to organise Guide Camps. I remember we used to use the rivers and water sources to cool the milk in bottle and crates by attaching them to trees on the riverbanks. We would then slip into the rivers next to the milk crates and swim downstream accompanied by various girl guides and family members. Guide camp was a family affair and our main family holiday. These were such happy carefree times and precious memories.

I started officially open water swimming last year during the pandemic, I used to regularly pool swim but of course all pools were closed. Since having my children, two sets of twins and having suffered a neonatal death, I have been trying to find something that makes me feel free and like me again.

Previously I have tried running, not great for my back as I have diastasis recti from the two twin pregnancies and need an operation to repair my stomach muscles. I have tried cycling but had the same issue of back pain. Swimming seemed to be the only thing that worked for my body but was not that exciting in pools and I don’t like being in warm water and especially don’t like the getting changed afterwards.

I discovered a local swimming group back in November 2019 and noticed another local twin mum was part of the group. I followed the page for a while and it seemed like they were having such fun, especially the screaming getting into icy cold water. In May 2020, my fellow twin mum posted about needing someone to swim with and I jumped at the chance, I had already bought a tow float a few months previously but not plucked up the courage to use it. After that first swim I was hooked, the first week I think I swam every day I wasn’t working.

The next Sunday I met up with lots of the other members of the group and then started signing up to various virtual challenges with them including the virtual Thames marathon which luckily we had a week to complete. My husband was amazed I was getting up early on wet Sunday mornings to get in the river, he competes in canoe slalom but likes to be on top of the water not in it.

It was not long before I was discovering the joy of cold water swimming as the weather got colder and entered and completed the polar bear challenge and the Henley swim events brass monkeys challenge. Also I love to bake so this of course helps with the after swim warm up.

I have had such a great year of open water swimming and have had amazing experiences in the river, camouflaging ourselves as swans with feathers also with lots of giggling. Then shaking hands that we would enter a marathon swim, of which we completed Ullswater end to end in July, what an experience. I have helped with training swims for a friend who completed a channel relay last year. I have had numerous swims in various places this year and have also been on a ‘Swimmybobs’ (swimming holiday with friends).

This last year has been extremely eventful as I work in the NHS as a Paediatric Nurse, but open water swimming has transformed my life. I have eventually after many years found my thing and it has bought great joy and happiness to my life. There is nowhere I feel more alive than a freezing cold river in the middle of winter in just a swimming cossie, hat and goggles.

I am so proud to be an ambassador for her spirit and wish to encourage more women to try open water swimming and feel the benefits I do. In fact I recently got both my sisters into the open water and they loved it too.

As Dory says ‘Just keep swimming!’