Postponed in August because of bad weather, we had to wait until 5th October to complete our Solent Swim Challenge in aid of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
Magically, we caught the last day of summer and were greeted with calm seas and blue skies – The next day, Autumn officially arrived.
As I wrote back in June, I love how swimming adventures pop up as if from nowhere; yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life, together. The Solent Swim Challenge connected: childhood adventures to the Isle of Wight; my favourite jumper lost in the Solent; a university student inspired and kept on the straight and narrow by the achievements and determination of Ellen MacArthur; family and friends who have battled cancer; and an aspiring open water swimmer with a lot of dreams and whose perception of what is possible was transformed by Anna Wardley’s Five Island Swim Challenge …
You never know where a swimming journey is going to take you; but to be honest I thought this one would be fairly straightforward: build up swim strength; get sea swimming experience; and then the biggest adjustment for me – getting used to swimming in UK water temperatures without a wetsuit. I did all that, but injuries and health complications created unexpected hurdles and made participation in the swim highly unlikely at one point.
When the swim was cancelled back in August, to be honest, I was relieved. And, standing on the beach in October looking out across the sea, I knew that beyond the shores of the Isle of Wight, there were a lot of unknowns for me. I was frightened, but on the upside, I love swimming, so spending the best part of the next two hours in water seemed like a good idea!
The Solent swim team were put into pods according to pace and each swimmer was partnered with a kayaker. I was in super swim kayaker hands; swimming alongside Matthew who had been Anna’s support crew when she swam around Jersey – he even had a whistle to alert me when I was swimming off course – exactly.
I’ve not swum with kayak support before, so this was a learning experience. Matthew was my eyes for the swim. I didn’t have to sight very much at all, just look to my side in rhythm with each breath and be guided along by the kayak. He inspired my confidence from the outset, which was wicked because it meant I could relax, listen to my body and enjoy the swim – particularly welcome as my cervical spine isn’t a big fan of looking up and sighting all the time.
Matthew also kept me updated with my stroke rate (I must confess I am cr*p at maths, so I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of this, but ascertained that it was consistent, which I was confident was a good thing), and last, but by no means least, as we started off on the final stretch, my bikini top had a wardrobe malfunction. Thankfully fixing bikinis in the middle of the Solent is clearly covered in module 1 of swim kayak training …
This swim was wonderful. The camaraderie amongst the swimmers and support crew was lovely – we’d supported and inspired each other whilst training over the summer and there was something really special about us all making the crossing together.
The water felt beautiful and there were big ships making the whole thing feel that extra bit intrepid. We were all on our individual swimming journeys and treading water on our rest stops with my pod I looked between the land points and remembered journeys across the Solent for childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight and in adult life, taking to the helm of a yacht to sail through a gale on the Solent – I couldn’t quite believe where I was!
Concerns about speed and time just disappeared, this was all about the water and the joy of swimming. Suddenly our pod was nearing Rye Sands, the water became shallow, and I found my feet – We did it!
Together the 21 swimmers raised enough funds to send more than 50 young people on sailing courses with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust; helping re-build their confidence on their journey of recovery from cancer.