Becky Horsbrugh is a journalist, swim coach and open water swimmer based in Hackney. Inspired by Lord Byron she took part in her first major open water swimming event in 2010, a swim across the Hellespont, made famous by the poet. Since then, she has undertaken a variety of swim and triathlon challenges, overcoming a number of personal challenges along the way and becoming an ambassador for women in sport.
Her love of swimming has also led her to qualify as a swim teacher, and through her work as an Asia correspondent is now embarking on a swim project that brings together her passions and interests to help develop drowning prevention projects in Bangladesh.
On January 29th she will swim the 16km Bangla Channel in the Bay of Bengal, raising funds for an organisation called the CIPRB (Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh) who run the Swimsafe swim teaching programmes in the country.
Why did you start open water swimming?
Around ten years ago I decided to give a triathlons a go. I wasn’t a particularly strong or regular swimmer but liked the thought of combining three sports. I was intrigued by the open water swim events and signed up for an event at Dorney Lake. I had no clue really about open water swimming. However I found a swimming lake near to my home at the time in west London and literally just ordered a wetsuit off the internet and went along when they had open sessions.
At that time the sport was very much in its infancy and there was little info on the web about training, and not many people doing it. So I just taught myself how to sight in the water and just practiced. Funnily enough though when the triathlon came around we had a heatwave and we were banned from wearing wetsuits as the water was so warm. I did literally throw myself in the deep end with the sport, but it certainly didn’t put me off as the following year I then signed up for the Hellespont swim.
How did the Bangla swim project come about?
I visited Bangladesh for the first time last July as I was keen to help out with the SwimSafe schemes there, helping teach children to swim. I had previously read the appalling statistics that around 50 children die every day there in the water. The trip made a massive impression on me. I fell in love with the country as well.
On my return to the UK my first thoughts were when can I return and how can I raise awareness of the huge issue of drowning in countries like Bangladesh. Then by chance I came across a facebook page about the Bangla Channel swim when I was googling swimming and Bangladesh. I got in touch with the organisers and after a bit of research decided to go for it.
What is the Bangla Channel swim?
Basically it is a 16 kilometre sea swim in the Bay of Bengal from Teknaf on the mainland to St Martin’s Island, which is just 8 kilometres long and is Bangladesh’s only coral island. Many Bangladeshis have done the swim, but few visitors. Just one Dutchman, and 4 Indians I believe.
What are your objectives for the project in the medium and long term?
My immediate objective is to make people more aware of how big an issue drowning is in many countries, not just Bangladesh. I admit I never really thought much about it before. We are so lucky though, we swim for fun and many of us can go on luxurious swimming holidays and enter big events, and it is a hobby. However swimming is essentially a life saving skill and everyone has the right to learn how to swim. Sadly so many people do not have this chance.
Over the past year I have been in contact with amazing people who are working to improve swim skills around the world. I have visited the RNLI headquarters in Poole and talking to the people there about their work, and I have also been in touch with the people who run SwimTayka https://swimtayka.org.uk/uk/
They provide free swim lessons and teach water safety to underprivileged children in several countries, using volunteer trained swim teachers. I’m hoping in the future to work with them and my ultimate goal is to work in drowning prevention full time, concentrating on Asia.
How have you prepared for the swim?
The furthest I have swum in the past has been a 7 km river swim. I had no clue what to do training wise when I first decided to do the Bangla Channel. My first instinct was just to swim as much as possible! But I was wary of overtraining and getting injured. So I signed up for club sessions once a week with SwimforTri which were brilliant and such fun. I then spoke with a coach from the company who drew up a training plan for me. So basically I have been swimming 4 times a week, with a different programme for each pool visit. A mix of drills and endurance and most swims have been around 4 to 5 kmI have also done regular pilates and although I am running less than normal, have tried to run at least once a week as cross training.
The biggest difficulty has been training over the winter time as most of my swims have had to be pool based. I live in London so impossible to go sea swimming regularly and the water is simply too cold for me to do long training swims as well outdoors. We will have two days to acclimatise though when I am in Bangladesh and get used to the sea conditions. In total there should be five of us doing the swim, myself and 4 locals.
I’ve also been lucky enough in recent weeks to get in touch with a couple of Bangladeshis who have done the swim and it has really helped being able to talk to them about the type of conditions I might expect.
What does swimming mean to you?
It is my refuge and my escape I guess. I am hard of hearing yet when swimming I forget this as I feel I can hear the sound of the water all around me (through my ear plugs!) – so it is the one time I feel like my normal self. I lost the hearing in one ear overnight around 4 years ago due to a virus. It is also the best stress relief for me after a long day at work. Swimming has also helped me so much with my confidence and self-esteem. The female swimming movement is so empowering and I think really helps us all to be proud of our bodies, especially as we get older. I will be 50 in just over a year but feel at least 20 years younger and never feel I have to hide myself away, fearful of what anyone might think. Quite unlike my younger self.
How can people support you and follow your adventures?
I have a facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Banglaswim/ and have also started a blog https://mybanglachannelswim.wordpress.com/
My fundraising link is https://www.gofundme.com/my-bangla-swim – and there is also more information here on the swim projects I am supporting
I am not certain how good my internet connection will be the couple of days leading up to the swim but will update whenever I can.
What is your favourite swim cake?
It has to be carrot cake with frosting – I could eat that all day. Yum
[Thank you Becky – We’ll alert the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies…]
What is your favourite piece of swim kit and why?
Hmm. I think at the moment it has to be the hoodie Selkie have given me for the swim. I am one of their swim ambassadors and they have printed out some t shirts and the sweatshirt for me. Makes me feel quite important and famous!
What are your top 3 tips for people new to open water?
1. I would say for your first time in open water either have a lesson or go with someone who is very experienced. It can feel quite daunting and some people do panic at first, this is completely normal and having someone there to allay your fears really helps. Plus it is always good if someone shows you specific skills like sighting that will make the whole experience more enjoyable.
2. If you want to wear a wetsuit that is fine – if you want to go in a teeny weeny itsy bitsy yellow polka dot bikini then that is totally great as well. Don’t feel you have to do what others do. Obviously be sensible – if it is 5 degrees and you are not used to cold water then be careful, but the most important thing is to get in the water and have a go. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
3. Above all enjoy it! It doesn’t matter how far you swim or how fast. Take in your surroundings (which will be much more picturesque than the walls and ceiling of your local pool). Take your time to get used to it, there is no need to rush. Just float on your back if needs be. But learn to understand the water so you feel at one with it and it is your friend. Then you will never look back.
Thank you Becky! And best of luck with your Big Bangla Swim!