In approaching the milestone of my 50th birthday two years ago, I was challenged by my 10 year old niece to get back into swimming, and to build up my fitness to swim a mile by my 50th birthday. In parallel, and after a couple of years of trying to cajole me into open water swimming, I was coaxed into a wetsuit by my good friend Sue – “if Pippa Middleton can do it” she said, “we sure as hell can!!” Having put my preconceptions of water hygiene (or lack of it!!) to one side, there began my love affair with open water swimming.
As a mediocre lifetime breaststroker, if I was to get anywhere in the open water, I’d have to switch to free style swimming, so in my first summer of open water swimming, I achieved the one mile goal set by my niece Sarah, but I was plagued by cramps and muscle strain because of poor technique. Over the winter months, I signed up for coaching to learn how to swim freestyle properly – it was a frustrating process, and while it felt like my swim coach broke me apart and slowly put me back together, it was money very well spent, and that was the first real breakthrough in taking my swimming to the next level.
My first summer of open water swimming was all done in Berinsfield, Bray and Shepperton lakes, and while I enjoyed every minute of it, there was a lot of ‘dead’ time getting to these lakes before I could swim a stroke. Additionally, while I had the company of my friend Sue at Shepperton lake, most of my outdoor swimming was done on my own.
The next BIG breakthrough for my swimming was when I found the Henley Open Water Swimming Club (HOWSC) on Facebook. I promptly joined the club in June 2018 and have never looked back. Within a half mile radius of my home in Henley, I found a tight knit group of kindred spirits, with whom I could arrange to swim with at the drop of a hat!
Being a career sales professional, big and daunting sales targets are a way of life for me, so at the start of this summer I decided that in order to raise money for my friend’s charity (Kidasha), my swim target had to be more imaginative and challenging than swimming the local Henley races (Henley Classic, Club to Pub, and Henley Mile) which I had done the previous summer. In my infinite wisdom, I came up with the concept for my 2018 challenge, and it was to swim 100KM in 100 days. Once the challenge was made public, there was no getting out of it, and like any sales target, it became a lot more tangible in my own mind by breaking it up into ten weekly targets of 10km.
The reality was that and having hooked up with a group of ladies from the club, my 100km target was actually achieved in 84 days. In addition to this, I completed the 14.2km Thames Marathon challenge on August 5th, which was WAY WAY WAY beyond my wildest expectations of what I could achieve, but I know that I never would have managed to do it without my close knit HOWSC swim friends around me - namely Susan Barry, Fiona Print, Laura Reineke and Tammy Hirst. Massive and heartfelt thank you ladies!
Now that I am a fully paid up club member, I regularly attend the early Saturday morning swims, and see new people come to check out our club. While some are a little daunted by the channel swimmers in our midst, there are plenty of club members who come for a leisurely social dip and simply love to float in the river having a chat and a laugh while watching the sun rise or sunset, and admiring the beauty of nature around the river Thames.
For prospective members checking out the Henley Open Water Swimming Club, I’d say don’t hesitate - jump straight in (pardon the pun!!). It is a fantastically welcoming club made up of people from many different professions, walks of life, nationalities, many different shapes and sizes, and varying abilities, but all united by the love of open water swimming. No matter how fast or slow, or how far, or how often you want to swim, you will find club members who have similar aspirations and abilities.
As we approach November now, and the cold winter weather is settling in, I’m still swimming in the river a couple of times a week with my club friends. I don’t know that I will fully weather the ‘Polar Bear Challenge’, but I’ll give it a go, and who knows, it may be another unforeseen swimming achievement for me. While I will no doubt feel the chill of the water go through to my bones, I know that I will have hours of laughter and chat in the process, and this is as important to me as the exercise – bring it on!
|AS YOU'RE HERE: The HOWSC website is maintained and run by HOWSC members and relies on voluntary contribtutions. Do you have something you'd like to share? Maybe reflections on a recent swim, tales of adventures in far flung places, an account of your watery accomplishments? Photographs, videos, poetry, prose, art and more will all be gratefully received and published on the website for all to admire. Contact Mark Reed to discuss or submit your contribution. We look forward to hearing from you.|