Category Archives: Adventure

Swimming in Siberia and other stories. A Lotus Rises meets Lake District wild swimmer Jackie Risman

Jackie Risman is part of a growing swimming community in the Lake District. Whilst many people start their outdoor swimming careers in warm climates, Jackie’s first outdoor swims were in Siberia!

A Lotus Rises spoke to Jackie to find out more about her swimming journey from Siberia, to Argentina and back home to the Lake District and her growing group of swimmers.

Why did you start outdoor swimming?

After two years of teaching English in Siberia, I decided to go winter swimming. My Russian student always found a way to turn discussions to the traditions and health benefits of swimming in cold water. It was worth trying if I was ever to find out what all this talk was about. As my boss, and in his role as President of the Tyumen Winter Swimming and Hardening Association he grasped an opportunity to introduce his passion to both me, the extreme tourist, and his growing children. When I announced my intention to swim in the frozen lake beside his dacha, in the depths of yet another harsh Siberian winter, the children said “Ok. If you swim, we’ll swim!” He stood proud as we all shook hands in solid agreement.

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Saturday morning arrived and my boss led our anxious group to the gym for a warm-up game of basketball. When our cheeks began to flush, he told us to quickly change into swimsuits while he organized our equipment. He was presented each of us with only a toweling dressing gown, fur-lined gloves, traditional Siberian felt varlinkee boots and a woolly hat. Laughing about our lack of winter clothing, we trudged outside into -15ºC and the icy path to the pool. Cold air crept into every space between skin and fabric, threatening to deep freeze our bodies until guided back to the sauna. Family and friends were applauding and yelling support from the dacha balcony, clutching hats and down jackets to them, as if we were making them feel colder. My brain screamed of danger, but my body wondered what all the fuss was about, because it really wasn’t as immediately bad as I presumed being semi-naked in wildest Siberia would be.

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The children stood back from the lake as we reached the wooden walkway leading across the frozen shore to the shelter protecting the ice hole. Memories flew across my mind of torturous school hockey games in the middle of winter while fingers froze and sleet blinded us. “But THIS is Siberia,” I repeated, “this is what they do in Siberia, and of course you can do it too. You’re a tough Cumbrian lass.”

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Without delay, my boss urged me to follow him inside the shelter. The children’s heads crowded into the doorway behind us, while I stared down at the 8m x 2m hole that had been carved through metre-thick ice into the frozen lake. A pump was driving air which bubbled through the black water to keep it from re-freezing, but the wooden steps descending into the steaming mix were shrouded in icicles and delicate frosting. The smell of rich Siberian earth, vegetation and metallic new ice lingered in the fog. Light flooded plastic-paneled windows while their corners were rounded with remnants of last night’s snowfall. This place hovered in a netherworld caught under the snow yet above the ice, and I was about to go swimming.

“Jackie, you must breathe out when you enter the water. Don’t forget to breathe.” My boss was calling me back from imagination. A moment of no thinking, of simply following his guidance, and I was trying to relax my breathing, outside in a Siberian winter, in a swimsuit and bobble hat.

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My toes touched the water which had been a film of glassy ice only a few hours ago, and I knew it was going to hurt. Two more steps down and my knees were submerged. Standing on the wooden framework, almost at my ear, my boss shouted “Go, go Jackie go.” I pushed away from the warmth of the wood and fell into the world of winter swimming in Siberia. From that moment, I didn’t look back with an ounce of regret or doubt that my boss knew exactly what he was talking about, and everything he had said was true. With a dedicated ice training plan my circulation and immune system dramatically improved, my heart felt strong, an appetite for adventure grew, and ‘cold’ never crept back into our vocabulary.

Siberia – that’s amazing – what’s it like cutting the ice?!

Every week, we swam in the frozen lake at the dacha. The children would drop into the pool behind me like ducks. Our screams of fear became encouragement, and more friends, including Ruth from Northern Ireland, joined us for the first time, fed by our enthusiasm for ice water. By May, winter had faded, the lake was melting, and we were confident and capable of swimming outside even when the temperatures plummeted to -34ºC. We followed International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA) guidelines and rules of security which meant that no-one swam alone, or without a woolly hat, or without the sauna being prepared first, and we never said the c-word!! Of course, it was going to be c-c-cold. By avoiding the word, we found a game in the positive mindset needed to keep swimming week after week in water below +5ºC. Usually, the children pushed me to swim first, and often the air pump had not been turned on. I would launch out from the steps and have to crash my naked hands onto sheets of invisible ice threatening to slice arms and faces. Icicles and frost would sparkle like fairy dust as steam rose from water warmer than the outer air. Our damp varlinkee boots would freeze to the wooden walkway and prevent us from stepping straight into them and easily walking away from the pool. Part of the fun was being frozen to the spot, and then sprung free to slide along the walkway back to the bank, but nothing prepared us for the razor sharp slashes of water which had frozen to our wet skin, that were pulling fine hairs from arms and exposed legs.

Where else have you swum?

The following summer, my boss was invited to the Argentina Winter Swimming Festival, in the Andes above Mendoza, and to swim in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia. He invited me, and I was honoured to join him. This unique opportunity of swimming in the cold but open waters of an Argentinian winter, concluded all the preparation we had been doing in Siberia. With nothing more than a swimsuit, cap, goggles and a positive attitude, strong friendships were founded as swimmers from 20 different countries shared unique experiences with us. Back in Siberia, we looked forward to hosting and swimming with these special people in the 2nd Tyumen Winter Swimming Open Cup. Guests joined us in our pool at the dacha, from South Africa, USA, Chile, Argentina, England and all across Russia and Europe. For many, winter swimming in Siberia was an impossible dream, and the event cemented our international winter swimming family.

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Next, I landed in Finland with Ruth, and participated in the national championships, just 100kms from the Arctic Circle. More than 700 swimmers of all ages and abilities from across Finland, with a mutual love of winter swimming hosted us. We loved every second of their fresh/sea water pool and the club on the river, which is attended daily by hundreds of swimmers just as keen as us to feel their endorphins racing. Soon, I was on my way back to Argentina, via Prague to join Czech swimming friends, who also shared a passion for swimming throughout the year, and I promised, one day, to return for their traditional Boxing Day swim under Charles Bridge.

 

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After my second South American winter in Argentina, and assisting the organization of another International Winter Swimming Festival, life took a dramatic turn when aged only 45, I returned to Cumbria for a life-changing total hip replacement. Convinced that I wasn’t going to waste time by sitting around in pain, I visited Wigton Baths as often as possible for classes. I hoped to learn how to properly swim front crawl, right up until the week of surgery. Just as Siberia had taught me to enjoy the positivity of winter swimming, the pool taught me that movement without pressure on my damaged joints was keeping muscles flexible and my heart moving. Post-surgery, 6 weeks later, I was on my way back to the pool with Francine who, after 30 years of friendship, I’d just heard about her love of morning pool swims. It was a celebration to be in the water again and able to explore a new range of movement.

I walked with Leah from Lanthwaite Green car park at Crummock Water, just 8-weeks post-surgery. I’d underdressed my swimsuit and saw total shock when I told her as we locked the car. She held my clothes and sheltered from the sudden snow shower, laughing her head off when I waded into the lake at flat-stone beach, and had the shortest and first of many wild swims on home turf. Half disbelief, half amazement that I felt back in a pain-free world of adventure, which didn’t just connect me with open water. Having grown up in the Lake District, it had never occurred to me until then that I had a million opportunities for both cold and open water on the doorstep. My plan to swim in every swim-able lake was born now that I felt back on track with the buzz of Crummock-enduced endorphins racing through my body.

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Where do you like swimming now and who with?

Three months after hip replacement, and feeling the need for an open/cold water companion, I put a message on Cumbria Open Water Swimmers Facebook page for like-minded winter swimmers. At first, the general response was very discouraging but, rising above the negativity, I stayed hopeful until Rosie replied and wanted to swim. We messaged, agreed to swim from the boat landings at Derwentwater, and then I asked “Where do you live?” As fate had it, we lived in Wigton, the same small Cumbrian town!

Fate and social media had nailed it. May Bank Holiday weekend, with fresh snow on the fells, we dipped into Derwentwater and it felt good. Our next adventure took us to Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater with artist, Nancy Farmer and her unforgettable chocolate brownies, and I knew what I needed to do…get decent swim shoes to deal with awkward rocks underfoot, and keep doing what we were doing. There was no pressure to push extreme limits, we belly-laughed in the middle of lakes, and we got out when we knew we could still recover with ease. The water temperature was much warmer than Siberia, closer to +7ºC, but the feeling was just as exhilarating. My journey had been tough with a lot of miles to get back home with a new outlook, and I felt stronger with every adventure – the Lake District had everything I could possibly need to pursue my love of wild swimming, while the people I told my adventures to smiled and became curious.

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Eighteen months later, and every weekend it’s a different Lake District location, maybe a favourite lake spot or an unfamiliar tarn. This weekend I’ve been in both Crummock and Ullswater, wild swimming in the rain, uniting a group of swimmers that had never met before. Jean, who dared herself a year ago to join me and Rosie after we met at a local writers group; Margaret, who I met through mutual swim friends that we’d both found on Facebook, or was it Instagram?! Karen, accomplished swim achievements to her credit and visiting from Loch Lomond, but we first met in Argentina. And Francine, who finally joined in my challenge to swim all the Lakes, and has become my same-pace-same-courage-can-do-swim-pal; after all this time, who knew that her curiosity would generate a new dimension to our friendship.

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How did that swim group grow?

Our wild swimming community is built on personal connections, and jam-packed with positive souls and strong spirits, regardless of ability, age, or experience, but united in their sense of adventure and love of being outside to see the Lake District from inside the view itself. The Swim Gang messages through the week to plan our next adventure, and has grown from tiny seeds of connection and mutual friendships, with wild swimming in the Lakes as our linchpin. We share transport and suggestions of recommended locations, Suzanna Swims offers creative routes, or Susan wishes for dawn training calls, on sunny evenings there are post-work de-stresses, or early Sunday morning nattering from the middle of a lake, bobbing along with the wind and buzzards swooping overhead. The rest of the world may be sleeping off what it thinks has passed. Meanwhile, we’re in the quiet of what is yet to happen, in the middle of the natural world where it’s all still ticking along nicely, and the rubbish stuff is too far back on the shore to reach. The serious bit is that we are all aware we are not out there alone: tow floats are a must, there’s no prizes for staying in too long, and the swim isn’t over until everyone’s recovery is complete. After all, this is extreme adventure tourism, although it may not be Siberia, but the stakes are equally high. And there is always the sharing of photos and experiences, across our social media circles which are spread around the world, or tea and cake for when we’ve dried off!

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What does swimming mean to you?

Recently, I enrolled for an online copywriting course. The first exercise said – Sell yourself in a letter and sign it with your defining life role. I gave it a lot of thought: writer, teacher, domestic engineer…no, I thought…wild swimmer. I’m a wild swimmer and I’m wild about swimming wild. I love the rituals; the adrenalin; the mastering of irrational fears; the state of having irrational fears; our community; their diversity; how we never permit the c-word; swimming in all weathers, in all seasons; the strength that each of us displays that no individual thought they held alone, although wild swimming is not a team sport. Swimming has become the force of nature that wakes me early at the weekend, keeps me warm in the winter, and throws me into the beautiful Lake District landscape in search of fresh adventures. Every time, the experience is different, neither better nor worse – just wildly unique.

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As you know A Lotus Rises is working in collaboration with the International Institute for Swim Cake studies, to answer the fundamental question of open water swimming: What is the best cake for optimum swim performance.  Please can you tell us, what is your favourite swim cake and why?

And sometimes, Lottie will bake a cake. OMG can she bake a cake. Macademia and White Chocolate Brownies. End of!

What is your favourite piece of swim kit and why?

Finally, shoes. Get some, they will change your swim life. Take away the pain of starting and finishing your wild swim, knowing your feet won’t hurt and I may not be Halle Berry wading out of Ullswater, but I’ve never stubbed a toe when I’m wearing Sports Direct’s Hot Tuna swim shoes. With flexible but hardwearing soles, neoprene slip-ons, they are secure, lightweight, still let me feel the water temperature, are machine washable, and incredible value for money. Plus, a lightweight but hooded toweling poncho that rolls up small for my backpack to save modesty and from flashing my cold bits in moments of vulnerability.

Swim safe. Swim wild.

You can follow Jackie’s adventures and connect with her via Instagram 

A Lotus Rises  is the swimming blog for women who love open water, from your first 25m to the Channel. And we’re on a mission to increase visibility, access and participation of women in swimming and we’d love you to be a part of it. Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and Instagram, – please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Strete – Keepin’ it real on a beach bivvy with the Belles in Blue

After witnessing the worlds first circumnavigation of the Rock with No Name, it was time to celebrate… happily someone I’d never met before but who likes swimming was having a party on a beach – perfect!

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Beach party and the smallest dog in the world: Copyright Alice Gartland

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BBQ, small dogs, wind breakers, bonfire, disco lights, tents and bivvy bags… I’ve never slept on a beach before so was very excited to do so…

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Feeling intrepid in my compact and bijou MSR 1 person tent – JUST LIKE Bear Grylls – (just don’t tell anyone that there was a coffee shop 5 mins away) – Copyright Alice Gartland

And in the morning I was honoured to swim with the Belles in Blue at Strete Gate Beach…

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The Belles in Blue and their Bivvy Bags: Copyright Alice Gartland
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Captain Webb or Belles in Blue with seaweed moustaches?

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Thank you Tara and the Belles in Blue for a wonderful mini swimming adventure.

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

LOTUS Exclusive: A Circumnavigation of the Rock With No Name…

At around 20.00 hrs yesterday evening,  Jess and her dog Otley made their way down to Westcombe beach for a dip, with me, Alice, official observer from the swim blog for women who love open water – A Lotus Rises.

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Jess on the rocks! Photo copyright: Alice Gartland

Some people may think this was just two friends and a dog going for an evening swim and picnic amongst the Monet like cliffs of the Devon coast, but no…

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Looking out to the Rock With No Name (it’s the little one that’s difficult to see that’s just in front to the big one)… Photo Copyright: Alice Gartland

Otley and the picnic were secured beach side, and we ventured out into the cool sea. Jess pirouetting on the sea covered rocks that she knows so well  (this is her local swimming pool).

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Ahead lay the Rock with no name, of which there are no official records of a circumnavigation… we estimated the swim to be about 10m in distance and best approached with a mixture of head up breast stroke and doggie paddle…

This breath taking footage captures this world first in wild swimming…

And this – doggie paddle to the finish…and diving off the island in celebration – Well done Jess – Epic swimming times!

Then we headed back to the beach for a crudette avec dip supper, and a petit vino, whilst wrapped up in warm jackets and woolly hats, before walking barefoot and muddy back home.

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Jess looking back to the beach in her OSS Dart 10k hat (rumour has it that Jess will be returning to the Dart in 2017… )

Continue reading LOTUS Exclusive: A Circumnavigation of the Rock With No Name…

Swim4miles. A Lotus Rises meets Coach, Boat Pilot and Loch Lomond expert Chris Sifleet

Chris Sifleet is an open water swimming coach based in Balloch near Loch Lomond. Chris was a County pool swimmer and transitioned to open water many years ago at age 13 and has completed solo swims of the English Channel 1976 and 1979 and two-way Windermere, Bala Lake, Torbay, Mewstone Rock to Torquay (first person), Weymouth to Lullworth cove and return (first woman) and many more. She now helps swimmers achieve their ambitions be that one mile or 21.6 miles in Loch Lomond and soon various locations across Scotland. She and her firm Swim4miles are partnering with the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships being held in Loch Lomond on Saturday 11th February, and along with her group and individual tuition is hosting a swim camp in Banff Scotland in September involving sea swims, castles and a ceilidh!

Why did you become a swim coach?

Well I had been out of swimming for several years through illness, but always maintained an interest and reflected very much on what swimming had done for me. For example, it increased my confidence and fitness and introduced me to lifelong friends that I am in touch with to this day – Who would not want any of that?

So I decided to share my experiences and love of swimming and help people achieve their aims and ambitions and try and instill in others the belief that anything is possible. I passed my level 1 and 2 open water coaching qualification and started coaching three years ago. I formed Swim4miles, took my piloting qualifications and moved to Balloch Loch Lomond where I run a bed and breakfast, so I can offer the whole package – swim, sleep and socialise!

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Emma Lister on her 6 hour qualifier in Loch Lomond. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What does Scotland and Loch Lomond offer to open water swimmers?

21.6 miles of beautiful scenery and a very challenging swim. The challenges are the weather; particularly wind directions. It can be very variable – sometimes it’s behind you, but at some point it will be in your face! There is also the temperature. In a good year it might be 16 to 18c, and in a poor year it can be as low as 13c. Because the bottom of the Loch undulates and there are many small rivers flowing off the hills the temperature can go up and down, which is why acclimatisation is very important. If you don’t want to swim the whole thing then there are various routes across and around the islands, which I map out on an individual basis.

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A swimmer enjoying the loch! Photo Copyright Chris Sifleet

Please describe some of your recent coaching successes.

I was very proud this year to coach the Arran Troonautics. A mainly female team with one chap swimming 16 miles from the Isle of Arran to Troon on the Scottish mainland, in aid of the Jo Walters Trust and the RNLI. There were two relay teams: ‘Clyde’, the non wetsuited team who gained recognition from the BLDSA; and ‘Firth’, the wetsuited team who were on a separate boat. There were a variety of abilities, so I had a busy time formulating training plans for the beginners as well as the more experienced swimmers. They all completed the swim and raised twenty five thousand pounds for charity.

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Troonautics swimming from Arran to Troon. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I also coached a lady who had done very little swimming and wanted to undertake a swim challenge in aid of MIND. We worked towards her swimming the three miles across Loch Lomond, which she did. We started off with stroke analysis and then I gave her a program of swims so she could swim the distance. She wore a shortie wetsuit and to help her acclimatise I recommended that she blow up a paddling pool in her back garden, fill it with cold water and sit in it for as long as she could stand through the winter! She was so proud of herself and that smile will stay with me for life! She raised seven hundred pounds for MIND.

How does the role of a boat pilot differ from that of being a coach?

I am responsible for the administration and safe running for the whole swim. I have my own boat so it is my responsibility to get the swimmer plus the boat to the start, and ensure that before and after care is dealt with efficiently. I am a qualified pilot and I have a co-pilot with me. I also have a medic and encourage the swimmer to bring along someone who knows them well. I can be responsible for feeding them etc if they have come alone.

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Swim Camp! Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I need to make sure during the swim that the swimmer is not becoming hypothermic and I will pull a swimmer out of the water if I feel their health and wellbeing is compromised – We live to fight another day! It is a long sit on the boat, as it can take in excess of 15 hours to swim the length of loch Lomond, however the minutes at the finish of the swim when the swimmer gets out, realises what they have achieved and smiles, makes it all worthwhile!

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Coaching the Sunday Morning Swim Group. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What are you looking forward to most about working on the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships?

Very excited about this event. We have ‘tartanised’ it as much as possible and have a piper, highland dances and a Scottish Ceilidh in the evening. There are events where swimmers can challenge themselves and the temperature is likely to be a tad chilly. I am the one person cheering when it looks like snow! I am looking forward to introducing this wonderful Loch to people who have never been here before and hopefully renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

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Loch Lomond. Copyright Chris Sifleet

 

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

New Blog: A Lotus Rises Meets Lynne Cox…We talk about her new book ‘Swimming in the Sink’, the power of love, and realising swimming dreams

Lynne Cox is an American long-distance open-water swimmer, motivational speaker, and author. Over the course of more than 35 years, spanning a period equal to 8 Olympic Games, Lynne has accomplished swims setting world records and opening borders, contributed to medical research, supported environmental causes, and inspired people to overcome great obstacles. She is best known for her swim across the Bering Strait from the United States to the Soviet Union 7 August 1987.

She twice held the overall record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel from England to France and has completed over 60 challenging swims around the world, including being the first woman to swim the Cooke Strait and first person to swim off Antarctica in 32 degree water, for 25 minutes!

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It is fair to say Lynne puts her heart in to everything, and in her latest book “Swimming in the Sink. An episode of the heart” Lynne tells the story of facing her biggest challenge ever – a broken heart – dealing with the grief of her parents passing, the loss of her beloved Labrador and diagnosis with atrial fibrillation, placing the real possibility of her own death before her.

As her world unravels, she becomes estranged from the water, but courage, patient determination, friendship and love take her on a healing journey, reconnecting her to her heart and mind, rebuilding and making her whole again.

Why did you want to write this book

My goal was to write a book that would help people in many ways. I explain the process that I went through to become an elite athlete, how the stress of life made me lose touch with my body and heart and how I nearly died. I write about the process I went through to recover my health so other people may adapt that process to their lives to recover from illness and thrive. 

What have you learned about life both in and out of the water from this journey of the heart?

I have learned that life is a gift and that it’s important to remember each day is precious. I have learned that love heals your heart. And there are many forms of love – romantic love, love of family, friends, love of the ocean, love for oneself, and love for other beings. Love is a powerful emotion and force that connects us and makes us happy we are alive

Your book explores the mind-body connection. How important is that for open water swimming?

The mind-body connection is essential for open water swimming. You have to be constantly aware of your body when you are making a long swim or a cold swim. You need to continuously monitor how your body is performing, to adjust your pace and you need to continuously maintain a positive attitude. 

“Each day I told my heart that I was happy that she was still a part of me, and I was grateful for her. I told her that she was strong and powerful and that she would endure like she always had. I told my heart that I loved her, that I always wanted her with me. We still had great things we would do together, and I wanted to do them wholeheartedly.” Lynne Cox, Swimming in the Sink

What advice do you have for other people embarking on new challenges, facing a broken heart or a loss of swimming mojo?

I would give different advice for the three things you’ve listed. If people are embarking on new challenges I would suggest they determine the level of their commitment to the challenge, figure out how much research they need to do, and focus their training to meet their goal. As for facing a broken heart, I think there are so many components to consider when people are doing that, and there are so many possibilities and options.

That’s why I wrote the new book because you can’t advise people in a few sentences. If people are losing their desire to swim the best thing they can do is to get out of the water, do something else, take a break, enjoy hiking, kayaking, going to the movies, do something different with friends. There will be a time when the water calls them back and it will be impossible for them to resist that invitation.

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What next for you? 

I am doing speaking engagements for: companies, physicians, libraries, and associations. I’ve begun to work on a new writing project, and I am swimming whenever and wherever I can as I continue to travel to promote Swimming in the Sink.

Finally, as you may be aware A Lotus Rises is working in partnership with the International Institute for swim Cake studies to answer the critical question: what is the best cake for optimum swim performance? What is your favourite swimcake and why?

A slice of moist rich dark chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream frosting was a swim cake that I’d dream about when I was doing a four hour ocean swim 🙂

Thank you Lynne!

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

Swimming Robben Island, A Lotus Rises Meets Natasha Dyer

Natasha Dyer is a London-born and based open water swimmer, working as a communications specialist for international development, focused in Africa. She is passionate about social justice and ensuring people have equal access to quality education. She’s currently conducting research into the drivers of conflict behind xenophobic violence in South Africa.

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On May 4th 2016, she swam 11.3km around Robben Island, becoming one of less than 10 women to have completed this swim. This was her first swim over 10k and in challenging temperatures of between 13 and 16 degrees.

A Lotus Rises spoke to Natasha to find out what it takes to break through the 10k barrier, acclimatisation and the story behind her inspiring swim!

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Natasha and her swim crew!

What’s your swimming background?

I always loved swimming, especially in the sea, but had never considered taking up open water as a challenge until I moved to South Africa in 2010 and was looking for ways to fundraise for the educational charity I was working for. The first South African to ever swim the Channel Peter Bales, suggested I swim the 7.5km crossing from Robben Island to Cape Town (Big Bay). I initially thought he was crazy but then I met the rest of the Cape Town open water swimming community and never looked back! I completed that swim on my second attempt (1st go I was pulled out 500m before the shore due to hypothermia) but when I moved back to London I let my inner fish lie flat for a while, while I did other things. Luckily, last year I joined the Serpentine swimming club, a collection of weird and wonderful people, and my swimming took off again! 

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Why did you choose a circumnavigation of Robben Island?

This year I set a goal for myself of swimming over 10km in open water. As South Africa was where it all began for me, and I knew there were several 10k+ swims around Cape Town, I wanted to do it there. Robben Island is of course a very significant landmark, as its where Nelson Mandela and many other struggle heroes were imprisoned for almost 30 years during apartheid. It was quite something to contemplate while swimming around it. Definitely provided motivation, as did swimming towards Table Mountain! 

 I was in town to be a bridesmaid for my swim buddy’s wedding and with all the celebrations had given up hope that I’d get a swim in before leaving. Especially as the crossing I’d planned to attempt – from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay – was off the cards because of a recent storm damaging the landing area. However, the day before my skipper Derrick Frazer – head of Big Bay lifesaving club  and the man who had pulled me out when I was hypothermic during my first crossing (and thus saved my life) – suggested swimming around the island, so I jumped at the chance! It was all pretty last minute, but I think that’s the way to approach it as you can never be sure a swim will actually happen. I was pretty nervous about the temperature and whether my mind was up to the challenge, but everything happened so serendipitously, I knew I had to make it! 

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The water temperature ranged between 13-16 degrees. It’s also famed for having a few exciting inhabitants. How did you prepare to swim in those temperatures and were you nervous about sharks at all – if so how did you overcome that?

The sea life on the day was amazing. On our way out to the island we met a pod of more than 100 dolphins. It was such a thrill to see them jumping in and out of the water at breakneck speed! During the swim my crew also saw penguins, seals and a couple of whales! People always think of great whites in the Atlantic, and they are there, but are hardly ever seen around Robben Island as they prefer the warmer waters at Seal Island and around Fish Hoek where the seals, are found. Occasionally they mistake surfers for seals in the waves, but human attacks are pretty rare. We just hear a lot about them when they do. People like to hype up the shark element to Cape Town swimming to make it sound impressive, but the truth is that the cold is the biggest challenge. 

Saying that, the thought does sometimes enter your mind that you might meet something, so you have to push it out and carry on. At the beginning of my swim, I had to skirt quite a lot of jellyfish which freaked me out at first. But I soon realised they weren’t stinging, so I focused on avoiding the kelp (thick sea weeds) instead! 

In terms of training, I swam at the Serps during the winter, where the temperature got down to 3 degrees at one point, so I felt fairly acclimatised to the cold. I’d done a half an hour sea swim the week before however and felt pretty shivery, so I was still nervous. And on the day, it definitely was cold! 

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Was the swim difficult to organise independently? What logistic considerations were there? Who were your support crew and what role did they play in this swim?

I was lucky, as I already knew the people who could make it happen quickly. I had submitted my forms to the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association who verify the swim, but my skipper organised the logistics. If you’ve never done a swim like this, its wise to connect with an experienced skipper who can help beforehand and brief you to make sure all you need to worry about on the day is swimming! 

You can’t underestimate the importance of having a good support crew. As said, Derrick was my skipper and my second was my great friend and newlywed Zani Taitz, who swam the second half with me. It was a great boost, as I was definitely cold when she got in and its always nice to swim with someone, especially friends. Looking up at dear people that had helped me get into the sport, cheering me on and enjoying it as well was such a thrill. Also the thought of how good I’d feel at the finish and how happy I’d be to tell my Serps teammates, with whom I’ve signed up to swim across the Channel and Lake Geneva this year. So I (literally) gritted my teeth and just kept swimming!  

What advice do you have for any other swimmers wanting to break through the 10k barrier?

A month or so before, I’d gone on a swim camp organised by Nick and Sakura Adams, very experienced open water swimmers who do an enormous amount to prepare aspiring Channel and other open water swimmers to succeed. During the camp, we’d done a 10km straight session in the 25m pool which, although brutal, had shown me that I could swim the distance in one go. 

Having done other sea swims before also helped, especially because the sea is very different to river swimming. The salt water dehydrates you and makes your throat quite sore and you have to learn to swim in the waves. Completing other swims had also showed me I could stay in for a while and cope with the cold, though I knew it’d be tough. I just thought about how far I’d come from that first Robben Island crossing. There’s no magic formula however, just time in the water, learning from other experienced swimmers, gritting your teeth and enjoying it! 

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What next?!

As mentioned, in August I’m swimming in a relay across the Channel and in September another across the 69km Lake Geneva. Next year I’m considering swims around the bottom of Africa at Cape Point (where sharks are more common), between the Fjords in Norway, crossing the Gibraltar straits or swimming at Alcatraz! But I haven’t decided yet. For me, a huge part of open water swimming is not just about testing my limits of duration, distance and mental strength, but also getting to explore different parts of the world and its nature through swimming. 

As you know, at A Lotus Rises, we are working in partnership with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies on a groundbreaking research project to answer the question “What is the best cake for optimal swim performance?”. What is your preferred Swim Cake and why?

The best swim cake I’ve had so far is the Guinness chocolate cake fellow swimmer and butterfly swim nutter Sam Mould made for my birthday. It melts in your mouth and is absolutely divine. What a great study! Please invite me to try the shortlist.

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Thank you Natasha!

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Long Distance and Channel Training Camp: 0-6 Hours in 7 Days

Long distance and channel training swim ‘holidays’ are one of those things I’ve talked about doing ‘one day’… Happily the other week I found myself enjoying not just one, but 7 days of distance swimming, in the turquoise waters of Formentera with SwimQuest.

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We love swimming!

In my heart I’ve always wanted to experience long distance swims and I booked the trip because I wanted to explore what I can do and get some perspective on my swimming aspirations.

Add to that, Swimquest’s Alice (in Waterland) Todd told me that I would be rewarded with a mojito at the end of the week, and as an elite endurance athlete that’s the kind of thing I take very seriously.

This trip is a great opportunity to put winter training into practice and assist with acclimatisation – the swim plan for the week is tailored to each person (keen novice and experienced long distance swimmers are catered for), but in general you build up each day with 1-2 swims; each increasing the time in the 14-16 degree water – providing a great platform to kick off the northern hemisphere summer swim season.

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BRING IT ON!

For those with distance swim objectives on the horizon, the week is also the chance to get a confidence boost for the challenges ahead and perhaps get some paper work done by ticking off qualifying swims: For an English Channel Solo ,that’s a 6 hour swim at 16 degrees or lower; and for and English Channel Relay that’s a 2 hour swim at the same temperature.

Of course it’s not all about the English Channel – Lake Zurich and S.C.A.R were amongst the imminent swimming objectives of participants. I’d booked the trip without a specific objective in mind, but a few weeks ago joined a 4 women Channel relay team setting out in late June, so this was now a great opportunity to get my 2 hour qualifier done.

In between swims there is food and workshops on key topics for long distance swims like training plans, nutrition and feeding, fatigue, mental preparation and swim technique analysis (including footage taken towards the end of our swims in order to get an insight on how well we were able to maintain technique over time).

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The scene is set for an epic week!

An Open Mind

For some reason until we started to swim, I hadn’t really appreciated the cumulative nature of the week and as we notched up more and more time in the water, it began to dawn on me what a big step this was.

However instead of freaking out at the potential volume of swimming , I enjoyed each swim as it came and kept in the moment, concentrating on technique, exploring the wildlife (beautiful fish, coral, sea grass and even an octopus!), enjoying the changing rhythm of the sea and taking every opportunity I could to learn from those around me.

That enabled me to consolidate and trust my potential, and, ignoring the slight hiccup where I managed to beach myself on a rock and was incapacitated with giggles for about 10 minutes (#eliteenduranceathlete), I found myself completing a 1.5 hour, then 2 hour, then 4 hour and then a 6 hour channel qualifying swim (my longest swim ever!) all with a big smile on my face. Proper wicked.

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We did it ! Chris, Stephen, James and Alice celebrating finishing our longest swims of the week!
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Wicked!

Team Work 

What a team! It’s the people that make these weeks. Swimquest’s John Coningham Rolls and Charlie of course (how many armpits can one smother with Vaseline in one week – quite a few it seems!) but also my fellow guests, all working towards amazing swimming goals and sharing their knowledge and inspirational stories along the way.

As the hours of swimming progressed, each of us met different challenges, gained new perspectives and surpassed personal goals and expectations.

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Post 4 hour swim and ice cream team selfie!

To complete a four hour swim one day and then go into a 6 hour the next, did require a couple of deep breaths and I was somewhat wide eyed with expectation  – but as John said “It’s just a 2 hour swim, you’ve already done the 4 hours.” –  so rather like the rest of the week, that’s how I looked at it; in bite sized chunks, and any nerves translated into excitement – I was going to do my first six hour!

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The experience also brought home to me how important support crew are.  Often when I swim my mind goes to magical places, and keeping track of time or anything more than a high five, cup of UCan and a jelly baby, can be tricky.

Things got particularly surreal when at 5 hours I spotted an octopus. I spent the next 30 mins with ‘An Octopuses Garden’ by the Beatles going around my head and talking to fish.

This was a gear change for my mind’s juke box which had previously been playing classic hits like Wham! Club Tropicana and Ant and Dec’s ‘Lets Get Ready To Rumble’.

Swim Community

I know that completing a week of swimming like this culminating in a 6 hour channel qualifier would not have happened without the laughter, encouragement and insights of everyone who I meet along the way.

In January when I was swimming at the Jinan international winter swimming festival in China, Ranie Pearce gave me her South End Rowing Club pool parker. I’m sure it’s a pool parker with super powers and I wore it religiously throughout this distance swim week – before and after swims.

To me it represents the love and encouragement of the swim community, the people who don’t laugh at another person’s dreams, but have faith and see potential in them and share that all important spirit of adventure

I wear that parker with pride as well as it being rather comforting and toasty – thank you Ranie!

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South End Rowing Club Pool Parker in action!

Once upon a time I was a wetsuit only swimmer and thought non wetsuit swimmers were nuts and that whole skins swimming thing seemed daunting. I still wear a wetsuit from time to time, but somehow via fun swims, mentors and encouragement at the Serpentine and South London Swimming Club, along with events like Chillswim, The UK Cold Water Swimming Championships, The Dart 10k, Henley Swims and others, I have become an all year round skins open water swimmer.

Swimming with my mates means acclimatisation to cooler temperatures has happened naturally through fun swims that have also lead me to explore different waterways, all at my own pace, rather than being on a rushed pass or fail mission.

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Celebrating the 50m head up breast stroke at the Taierzhuang International Winter Swimming Festival in China – Tiara, earrings and sunglasses optional.

My comfort level with distance is also progressing, along with a love of meditation that gives me a freedom of mind and body I cherish, and I reflected very much on the A Lotus Rises interview with endurance swimmer Beth French, about mindfulness and swimming, throughout the week.

All of that enabled me to enjoy and progress through the week.

Rest, Food and Recuperation

During the week I had two massages, ate a huge amount of food, and slept A LOT. I’m still taking things pretty easy and I make sure I get to my physio regularly. As my roommate Emma said, you need to build a team around you. Juggling swimming dreams with the demands everyday life is not simple – I don’t get it ‘right’ all the time.

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Post swim ice cream and developing swim hat tan line nicely (watch out Anna Wardley!)

Equally I am not in a rush – give or take a few global environmental challenges, the Channel et al ain’t going anywhere…Swimming is a sport for life and I want to have fun, be kind to myself and look after my body and mind as this journey progresses.

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Rest, rest, rest!

Overall this Swimquest week is about realising your potential and finding out what suits you as a swimmer on your individual path. It provided me with some important general advice and has empowered me to explore what’s best for me too – for example, a lot of people really like maxim as their main feed for long distance swims, but it seems I get on better with UCan.

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Post swim potatoes bravas – Note. This is just a starter #eliteenduranceathlete

Life in and out of the water

Last year when I was at the Camp Eton long distance swim training weekend, John described how in life there can be two types of people: “Drainers and radiators…Surround yourself with radiators” – and that resonated throughout the week – thank you to my fellow swimmers and in particular Emma and James who often kept me company and embraced my somewhat Dory – like qualities when in the water.

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Emma awesome room mate and super radiator 🙂

Other things I learnt:

  • No matter how long you spend in the water, however acclimatised or however warm the climate, when you spray p20 sunscreen on your back it feels really cold!
  • Long distance swimming is a team sport.
  • Doing your bra up after a 6 hour swim in 15 degree water is a significant challenge.
  • Never underestimate the importance of a powerfully named nail varnish. My room mate Emma has a selection of nail varnish with fantastic names for her big swims. For the six hour swim she let me borrow one entitled “Up the Anti”…And I did!

 

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The night before the 6 hour swim: Up the Anti Nail Varnish applied and sleeping in pajamas entitled “You Are Awesome” – elite preparation for an elite endurance athlete
  • An open and positive mind unlocks potential
  • Anything is possible
  • I love swimming

…. Thank you SwimQuest!

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Mojito Accomplished – Cheers Alice Todd!

 

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

69km, 32 Hours and 52 Minutes. A Lotus Rises meets Marathon Swimmer and Winter Swimming Champion Jaimie Monahan

On August 26th and 27th, 2015, Jaimie Monahan from New York City, swam the 42.8 miles (69km) across Lake Geneva in 32 hours and 52 minutes. It was the 53rd longest solo swim in human history – and she is the first American to complete a solo crossing of the lake.

This is another chapter in an incredible swimming journey that has taken Jaimie across the globe from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, from Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier to frozen lakes in Siberia and Vermont to the Sahara Desert and the towering mountains and crystal blue waters of Switzerland.  And that’s just in 2015.

Jaimie has also just become the overall female winner of the 2015-2016 International Winter Swimming World Cup.

Paradise Bay Antarctica Courtesy of Arik Thormahlen
Paradise Bay Antarctica Courtesy of Arik Thormahlen

What inspired you to undertake this swim?

In February of 2015 I got an email through the English Channel swimmers distribution list about a new organization, the Lake Geneva Swim Association (LGSA) (http://www.lakegenevaswimmingassociation.com/) that was starting to organize swims across Lake Geneva in Switzerland for the coming summer.  I’d been focusing on ice swimming and winter swimming for the past year and hadn’t done any long swims for a while.  Lake Geneva was much longer than any swim I’d ever done and less than six months away, but something about it just called to me.  I researched for a few minutes about the lake, the surrounding landmarks, and the water, and decided to go for it.

I registered my interest on the website and within a few minutes was in correspondence with Ben Barham, the founder of the Lake Geneva Swimming Association (LGSA).  He was great and we locked down a date that same day!  In general, I try to only pursue swims that are exciting or meaningful to me personally rather than try and check off swims on arbitrary lists.

Lake Geneva Photo Courtesy of Ben Barham LGSA
Jaimie in her element in Lake Geneva

How did you prepare physically and mentally? 

Physically I swam as much as I could, and did a lot of yoga.  For me, yoga helps a lot mentally too because it’s taught me to just show up to the mat (or the water) and breathe through whatever happens.  I also thought it was important to get a long freshwater swim under my belt a few months in advance, so I signed up for Extreme North Dakota Racing’s Watersports Endurance Test END-WET http://endracing.com/end-wet), a 36 mile swim down the Red River of the North.  I had never swum much in fresh water, so END-WET was a great learning experience for me, as well as a lot of fun with swimming friends and the amazing people of Great Forks, North Dakota.  Definitely a great community race!

How important are logistics and support crew? Were there any particular instructions you gave to them? What did you eat?

Logistics are a very big factor on a swim this long. We planned for up to 48 hours worth of feeds which is a LOT of bottled water and carbohydrate powder.  Watching us load a huge shopping trolley cart of groceries onto the boat the day prior must have been really funny for the people watching us from Geneva’s stylish waterfront cafes.

Support crew is so important, perhaps THE most important thing.  I had a small but dedicated and experienced personal crew of one, the amazing Arik Thormahlen, and a wonderful team organized by the LGSA of our pilots Gérard Schoch and Jacques Massard and observers Ben Barham and Tim Davies.

I fed every 30 minutes on warm carbohydrate drink, interspersed with black tea and even some flat Coca-Cola at the end for variety. I don’t eat solids during swims but the drinks provide warmth and enough calories to keep me going, even for a long time.

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Jaimie and her super support crew Arik Thormahlen and Ben Barham, Observer and LGSA Founder

 

How much sunscreen and vaseline did you have to apply etc?

I could go on for ages on the topic of sunscreen but for this swim I used La Roche-Posay Anthelios factor 60 as a base layer with a thick layer of Desitin Maximum Strength brand diaper/nappy cream. It’s messy and we come prepared with latex gloves for a neater application, but with 40% zinc oxide, it is the only thing that works for me. It also prevents chafing so no need for vaseline! It was very effective and stayed (mostly) on, even after almost 33 hours in the water. I still daydream about ways to reapply in the water for even better coverage but haven’t found a good method yet.

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WICKED!

What goes on in your head on a 32 hour, 52 minute swim?

Everything and anything!  I have a really slow stroke count so I often try to keep faster paced songs in my head to increase my turnover.  I felt quite sick for most of the Lake Geneva swim so I spent a lot of time monitoring myself…making sure my feeds were absorbing, that the cold I was feeling wasn’t hypothermia, just discomfort, etc. For this swim the scenery was a great distraction for me, beautiful vineyards, stunning mountains, and the water itself was ridiculously lovely so I tried to focus on that too.

Do you have a mantra? What keeps you motivated?

I don’t have a mantra.  Sometimes I count to myself, but always lose track.  It’s kind of calming though.  In terms of motivation, I just swim to the next feed, or sunrise, or some other landmark.  For long swims I try not to even think about being done until the very end.  It’s always the last 10% of every swim that’s the hardest for me, because my mind switches from swimming and being in the moment to wanting to be done.

How do you recover from a swim that big?

It sounds a little funny but for me swimming at my typical pace for long solo swims is not very tough on my body – even after swimming for so long I was only sore for about 24 hours afterwards.  Slept in the next morning, had a nice social swim on the second day and went on a (leisurely!) hike with friends before heading back to NYC.

Perito Moreno Glacier Photo Courtesy of Mariia Yrjo-Koskinen
The Perito Moreno Glacier: Jaimie Monahan overall female winner of the 2015-16 International Winter Swimming World Cup

We know that you love cold water swimming.  What are your top tips? Please refer to fancy dress in your answer.

Good question!  For training, my best advice is to ramp up gradually.  Start swimming in the summer or autumn and then just keep swimming outdoors as the water gets colder.  Keep your breathing under control, relax, and as you’re going in, try counting to 100.  By then it usually feels okay.  Don’t push your limits, get used to how your body feels and reacts and be conservative with temperatures and length of swim until you are familiar with what “normal” and “not normal” feels like for you.  And never swim alone!

Specific to winter swimming events and competitions – my best advice is bring as many swim costumes as you can, more than you think you need.  Keeping on a wet swimsuit between events can take a toll over the course of a long day of events.  In a similar vein, always dry off and get dressed immediately after a cold swim. You may feel amazing and want to hang out in the cold air, but dry off, cover your head, and get dressed including warm comfortable footwear as soon as possible.

And yes, fancy dress wherever/whenever possible!  I highly recommend a sheep hat.

Tooting Bec UK Winter Swimming Champs- photo courtesy Tolga Akmen
Sheep hats – The millinery of winter swimming champions!

A Lotus Rises is a community of women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water.

More inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog,  Facebook and Instagram and  Twitter – we’d love to hear from you at alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Swimming Diplomacy 游泳外交 “Yóuyǒng wàijiāo”

Tomorrow I fly to China to Swim…

300m in Daming Lake, at sub 5 degree temperatures, with hundreds of other swimmers from China and across the globe, at the 5th International Winter Swimming Festival, in Jinan City, Shandong Province, North China.

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.

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Karaoke, Beijing 2008

 

China has been a part of my life for almost two decades. I first went to China in 1996 to teach English as part of my ‘Gap Year’. Since then, I have had the opportunity to study, live and work in the country on a number of occasions and have been fascinated by the countries economic and social development.

My last visit to China was in 2008, when I working as a lawyer in Beijing. It was amazing to be living in the city at the time of the Olympics.

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It was the performance of female British swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten in the Open Water Swimming events at Beijing 2008 that helped start the growth of open water swimming in the UK.

In 2010 I swam my first mile and open water swimming is now my big passion in life.

Finishing my first 1 mile swim at Ullswater 2010

The human body is 90% water and 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. It’s what sustains us and connects individuals and communities across the globe; yet our never ending rush for advancement means the world is facing a fresh water crisis and our oceans are being decimated, etching the battle lines of the future on a fragile liquid landscape.

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River Crossing, Zhejiang Province 2003

It’s easy to get swept up in political and commercial agenda, and sometimes it feels we are at risk of forgetting that behind the brands, policies and rhetoric are people; each of us made of that same 90% water.

Now, more than ever it is time to remember that essence; our shared humanity.

Like many people, when I swim, I feel free. I am in my element and global and personal agenda falls away.

Sunset swim at The Jetty at Waternish
Freedom! Enjoying a Sunset Swim off the Jetty at Waternish, Isle of Skye (Photo Copyright Gill Williams)

It is a great honour to have been invited to swim in Jinan. I am really excited to return to China and rather than work or study, to be celebrating my passion for water with new Chinese friends and the wider international swimming community.

My favourite Chinese proverb is ‘芙蓉出水’ (fúróng chūshuǐ) meaning ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’ The proverb is used to describe strong beautiful women in water, and also overcoming challenges and coming into bloom, and inspired the poem that I wrote for Amy Sharrock’s Swimmers’ Manifesto in Summer in summer 2014.

That meaning resonates with me deeply and inspired the creation of this blog, ‘A Lotus Rises’ which is part of an online community, dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of water.

The symbol of Jinan is a lotus, and they rise up out of the water of Daming Lake. I am really excited to bring together all these different elements of my life by participating in the festival.

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From Beijing I will travel to Jinan, then to Shanghai and Hong Kong and on to Sydney and Tasmania.

Tomorrow marks the start of a journey connecting friends, personal, social and intellectual passions, swimscapes, landscapes, communities, and family history… and I am sure many more things I cannot anticipate; all the way to Tasmania…

‘芙蓉出水‘(fúróng chūshuǐ) ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’.

Henley Bridge to Bridge
UK swimming – the Henley Bridge to Bridge  2015- TEAM!

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The Mermaid of the Solent

Deborah Herridge started open water swimming in summer 2013 and has just completed a 14 mile two-way Solent swim, raising funds for three charities close to her heart, The Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation who provide holidays for children with life-threatening illnesses, Cancer Research and Canine Partners. Inspired by the London 2012 Paralympics to get fit and to try and raise funds for good causes through swimming, she has raised nearly £10,000 for charity in the past few years and motivated many in the open water swimming community along the way.

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The wonderful Deborah Herridge – Quantum of Solent II complete! (credit Deborah Herridge)

Why did you want to do a two way Solent Swim? 

Last summer (2014) I swam a new route across the Solent, a 7 mile swim from Ryde on the Isle of Wight to Hill Head Sailing Club on the English mainland. We had near perfect conditions, a flat calm sea, a beautiful sunrise at the start, warm air and sea, around 18C and it all went really well. I enjoyed it so much that at the end I thought, “hmmm, that wasn’t too bad, I wonder if I could swim a longer distance…?” The seed was planted.

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(Credit Deborah Herridge)

That Autumn I did lots of research on English Chanel swimming, and sought lots of advice from previous Channel swimmers, and decided to go for it. Life is for living, why not! So I booked my solo for 2017 and started planning The Quantum of Solent II. The swim was meant as a stepping stone – if I could successfully swim two thirds of the distance of the English Channel by swimming two widths of the Solent without too much injury; I reckoned my shoulders may be able to have a bash at swimming across the big one.

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In Her Element (Credit Deborah Herridge)

I know the EC is a different ball game all together though, but I think the conditions for the latter leg of the Quantum of Solent swim (a horrendous and un-forecast F5-6 with white caps for the last 3+ hours) was great training for how unpredictable the English Channel can be. It is a mental challenge as well as a physical one, and my head and body coped well considering the conditions, although I did want to stop a few times. I’ve heard a saying about the EC, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”. It seems apt.

What training did you do and how do you keep it fun?

I started training for the two-way swim on January 1st with a dip in the rather chilly Solent with 500 other New Year’s nutters. I was trying to swim throughout winter for the first time, as always just swimming in my swimming costume, which proved to be an exhilarating experience, if a little refreshing to say the least.The first tidal window to make the crossing in the complicated tidal flows of the Solent was on the 26th June.

My husband Robert writes all my training plans using a training method called Periodisation Training, where you work in three weekly cycles, light/medium/heavy, and they build in intensity as the time goes on. So I started going to the pool 3-5 times a week as well as a couple of short sea swims to keep acclimatised until it got warmer, and the pool sea swims would then transfer to the sea.

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…And she did! (credit Deobrah Herridge)

We also have help, advice and swim coaching from Danny Bunn, who has been working with Robert to devise pool and open water interval sets which have made me stronger, faster and fitter.

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TEAM! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

How do I keep it fun? I love it all, I love the intensity, the hard work, how my mind will clear when I swim, I love it when it’s so tough I feel my heart is going to burst out of my chest, I love the feeling that swimming brings, so I guess I find all that fun. And I love swimming in the sea with friends. Some of my longest training sessions took place in some very challenging conditions, but I had many pals from my local swimming group, The Shack Sharks, who trained with me and having their company through the long sessions (the longest being 5 hours 20) and having them beside me made it much more fun.

The ever changing conditions keep one feeling alive as well, and my favourite swims are in the rain, nothing more special than being rained on whilst swimming.

How was the swim? What were the highs, the lows – we hear you fitted in a tumble turn?!

There were many highs, the anxiety at the start, the elation of the finish, the first third of the swim was wonderful, but the latter part was hell.

I started off feeling very nervous. My pals were there to support me and help me get ready, and they were there to make me smile and try and relax me, but there was an ominous feeling in tummy, a fear that the swim may be cancelled again if the weather changed.

It had been postponed back in June when I was standing at the waters edge at 3am ready to swim, when the wind had picked up and visibility was very bad with a sea mist rolling in, so the pilot called it off – in hindsight it was for the best safety wise but I was gutted to say the least at the time.

To be so ready to go, fit and healthy, my injured arm having healed well, bursting with energy, and then not be able to swim, and then try and keep up the fitness for the next two months was a challenge to say the least, physically especially, but most of all mentally, to stay focussed. But on this day, the day the big swim would go ahead, the weather seemed perfect, it was sunny and fairly warm, very little wind, but the sea felt very fresh at 16.5C. The summer hadn’t been that great and the Solent hadn’t warmed up as much as the previous year…

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Awesome! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

The first hour went very fast, I remember remarking on the first feed what a wonderful day it was! I should have remained quiet…I got to Ryde much quicker than anticipated, in 2 hours and 44 minutes, I did a quick tumble, (what had originally been meant as a visual humour on the map had turned into a real thing as a bet to get more sponsorship), cleared the water and then started on my longer than foreseen journey back….The ‘lows’ were about to happen.

People were watching the tracker online and thought I’d be back much earlier than expected at the pace I’d swam the first leg on, little did we all know about the winds that were to spring up. The sea changed from calm first it was small gentle bobbing waves, I had to swim against the tide for an hour or so, I kept thinking I wasn’t getting any further away from the main landmark around here, the Spinnaker Tower, and remarked about it, to be told that everything was fine, when in fact I really wasn’t moving very far.

Then the winds came, creating such big swells and waves which constantly slapped at my face arms and back and chilled me to the bone. I knew now that my feet had turned blue, I had looked at them on one of my feeds, I had lost all feeling in them, and my hands were starting to feel slightly numb with the wind chill. I really wanted to stop a few times, and said so more than once, but my brilliant crew, Captain Chris Godfrey, my husband Robert, Caroline Crolla and Heather Massey kept me motivated and encouraged me to go on.

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Deborah and crew! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

I couldn’t see much, the waves were so big, but eventually we neared land and I started to recognise buildings. When eventually the sailing club came into view in the distance I felt a surge of energy, enough to get me to the end, one of my shoulders felt very painful, but it all went when I saw my buddies from the Shack Sharks in the water!

Sharon,Lorraine and Oliver had come to swim in with me, it was a wonderful feeling, knowing people were there to support me. Then I saw all the people at the sailing club, friends from The Oakley Waterman charity, neighbours, swim pals, I must admit to filling up a little in my goggles. I was near now, very near, not far to go at all, I couldn’t quite believe I’d done it, then I heard a little commotion, some shouts, and didn’t actually see the sailing boat come past me, from the video it looks like it got very close to my head, that would have been a dramatic ending indeed!

Then I saw pebbles beneath me, I knew I was in the shallows now and could see the waves lapping the beach and hear the muffled cheers and applause through my ear plugs. I went to stand up, and promptly fell down… My legs had turned to jelly. I tried again, and fell back into the water.

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EPIC! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

I heard “Come on Deborah! You can do it! Clear the water!” And I did. I then fell into the arms of my buddies Paula and Jeannie. I believe I was heard saying “never again!!!”. But the memory of the pain goes, and new adventures are planned.

I’m happy to say that the swim was recognised by the BLDSA as an inaugural record.

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(Credit Deobrah Herridge)

What have you learnt from this swimming journey?

So many things.That I’m stronger than I thought, mentally and physically.

I once saw a 10k at Eton Dorney and thought I could never do a swim that long, but anything is possible, two years later I did 22k.

That swimmers are amazing, kind, helpful, welcoming and resourceful folk.

That swimming is a happy drug, I’ve never been happier and healthier, and when I don’t swim I get very sad. It probably sounds weird, but I feel like I’m meant to be in the sea. Maybe I was a fish in a previous life.

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Mermaid and here’s the medal to prove it! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

 

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about taking up open water swimming?

Go for it. You won’t regret it.

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Sunset Swimming Joy! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

And finally, what’s your favourite swimming costume and where is your favourite swim spot (although perhaps we know the answer to that!)?

My green mermaid costume, and I have two places, not surprisingly, the Solent and I also love the beautiful clear waters around the Isle of Mull and Iona. I’ve been holidaying there for ten years but only plucked up the courage to swim this summer, it was magnificent.

You can follow Deborah’s journey from the Solent to the English Channel here.

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!