Story of an Open Water Novice, by Ruihua Wang

This is not meant to be an epic story. This is about what an ordinary person can achieve when he or she focuses on something.

One of the challenges I set for 2015 was to try open-water swimming. I have no intention of becoming a technically brilliant swimmer. But having always been scared of deep water, I figured that the best way to tackle fear is to do exactly what I am scared of.

Only able to swim 60m in a pool, I had my first dip in open water at  the Serpentine LIDO on the first  day it opened to the public  in April. By the end of September, I had finished a 750m race in Stoke Newington West Reservoir.

Ruihua Wang

Ruihua Wang

What happened in between are: moments of embarrassment; a lot of pool training;  getting panic attacks in cold water; thinking about giving up;  covering 250m for the first time,; covering 450m for the first time; and  starting to believe I could actually cover 750m…

I think the trick to enjoying an open-water swim is turning around the seemingly unpleasant moments and embracing the experience.

I used to hate the chilling sensation which crawls over your spine during the fir­­­­­­st few minutes in open water. After learning a trick to acclimatise (by pouring some water inside the wetsuit before jumping in), that became less of a shock to the system and  I now find the coldness of the water refreshing and energising.

Putting on a wetsuit is a battle in itself: because it acts like a second skin, it is incredibly tight and it took me 20 minutes to try it on in the shop. After watching tons of youtube video and discussing with fellow swimmers, I can now put it on in 5 minutes. Yes, the tight suit makes me conscious of my tommy and regret for having that extra bar of chocolate the night before. I now love wetsuit because it keeps me warm and gives me lots of buoyancy and confidence in water.

What used to frighten me most about open water is not knowing where I am going (where is the line at the bottom of the pool?) and having nothing to hang on to if I get tired (there is no pool end!).

Mastering the sighting, treading water and sculling helps me find my way in the water. Knowing the wetsuit is sufficient to keep me afloat is also comforting. Otherwise, rolling on my back is a good way to catch a breath and enjoy the blue sky. When I really started to relax in the water, breathing became therapeutic and I was able to swim longer and felt less tired at the end of my training. 

The 750m swim

The race was on an early Sunday morning. When most people were having a lie-in, I was up by 7am travelling to Stoke Newington West Reservoir. There were over a hundred people who entered the race, swimming for 750m, 1.5k or 3k. I was so excited to be a participant rather than a spectator. I picked up something new as well: putting cold tap water in the wetsuit to acclimatise  since we would not have had the opportunity to warm up in the reservoir before the race. 

The race was uneventful really, even though it was my first time to swim 750m on my own. I started at the back of the pack and found my rhythm. I focused on sighting for the next buoy, catching my breath by spending a few seconds sculling and briefly watching a duck at the edge of the reservoir.

When approaching the finish line, I was still full of beans and swimming in such a stride. When I arrived at the pontoon, people arriving at the same time were breathless and stumbled. I just got up calmly and walked on.

Ruihua Wang

Ruihua Wang

I want to say a big thank you to my ex-boyfriend who encouraged me to take up open-water swimming, to my instructor Matt Gordon who was patient and tailored his teaching to a nervous student like me, and to my swimming buddies who were good fun to train with.

This experience has been very positive in terms of expanding my world, removing self-doubt and achieving things that I think are beyond my limits.

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

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