Swim Drills #alotusrises #PressforProgress

I (Alice) had hoped to put something really ‘cool’ together on A Lotus Rises to celebrate this year’s IWD, but I’ve got flu; and I couldn’t quite get it together. The past 12 months have been wonderful for our growing swimming collective, and of course women’s rights are not just about one day. But the plus side of being ill is that in the last few days I’ve been able to sit back and enjoy all the different celebratory posts from the likes of  Swim Dem Crew, the Outdoor Swimming Society, and Survival Techniques, felt strengthened by the story of Tiffany Haddish and motivated by the powerful insights from women like healthy relationship ambassador and Safe Lives pioneer Celia Peachey, the Pool’s Marisa Bate and many, many more… It got me thinking, and, almost without realising, I began to write … (Heads up: this post contains some strong language and relates to domestic abuse) …

One of the best drills for developing feel for the water and also a good front crawl hand entry position is the closed fist drill.  It’s one of my favourite drills and I regularly include it in a warm up, often switching between a closed and open fist with fingers spread wide every 3 strokes, for a couple of lengths or more. It settles me into the water and sets me up nicely for a main set. But once upon a time, that drill triggered something very different in me.

“Ali, can you make a fist, like this?” I looked at my coach on the side of the pool and  stopped still, transfixed by the closed fist he was making. I could see the hairs on his forearm and the lines on his curled fingers. To me, it wasn’t the hand of my coach, it was the closed fist of someone else…

The fist I saw belonged to a man who said he loved me, yet called me a ‘b*tch’; who threw glasses at me; smashed plates; downed a bottle of whiskey and screamed in my face, bucking his head into me like an Ibex… The person who left me sleep deprived by keeping me awake all night with his lectures; punched the walls and doors around me – who punched so close, but not close enough to leave a bruise; the person who pretended to be driving our car off the edge of a cliff top road – with me in it. I remember that final day, when he pushed me onto the bed, covered me in a duvet and pillow and beat down through it on to me. 48 hours of destruction and finally I knew I had to throw him out. But how to really break free? He was ill, I loved him, couldn’t I heal him? A year of soul searching and dreaming of reconciliation, and ‘what ifs?’ followed.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not in control. It’s red mist,” I said to a male counsellor, who specialises in working with perpetrators of domestic abuse. “On the contrary.” came the reply,  “His actions are about doing just enough to scare and control you… Domestic abuse isn’t measured by whether or not you had to leave a relationship in an ambulance…  Be under no illusion, what you have described is severe abuse.”

But I still couldn’t quite accept what had happened to me: Alice, the one time lawyer, the writer, the academic, the athlete, the friend, the sister, the daughter, the joker, the smiley, happy girl…I was still an actress, to both myself and the outside world. Yes, the doctor had given me tranquilisers to ease the anxiety from the trauma I was processing, and my mum heard me screaming out in my sleep in the night… but it wasn’t really that bad…was it?

I froze still in the lido water. I couldn’t move. I just stood and stared, having what I now know, is a flashback. “Ali, it’s just a hand”, my coach flexed his fingers out, unlocking his fist and waving. “It’s a hand, just a hand – look it’s me; Ali, it’s me.”

I finally lifted up my goggles and broke the spell. “Are you ok to swim?” Yes, I was. And the lesson continued with a quiet diplomacy.

The mind is an extraordinary thing. We can create layers of behaviours, including OCD and addiction and become experts in denial to protect ourselves – I believe we see that magnified across society about so many ‘difficult’ issues – it hurts to focus on the painful stuff and we can go to great lengths to numb or disguise it. However eventually, no matter how long it takes, one way or another, the truth will confront us.

What I didn’t realise then, but I do now, is that I was severely traumatised. For some reason, despite the help and advice I’d sought prior to that point, it still hadn’t fully ‘clicked’ how vulnerable and hurt I was. Yet in that moment it was so clear, and I finally started to accept my reality.

At the same time, as I moved through the water I found glimmers of my true self. My body that can move with power and grace; and a spirit that can ignite others; and with each glimmer, a feeling that perhaps… just perhaps…life could be something more – That I was worthy of something more.

I finally found the logic I needed to move on – that if seeing another man close his fist to demonstrate a swim drill caused me to be paralysed with fear – how could I ever stop being afraid of my ex – no matter how chocolate box the good times seemed – there was no way I could guarantee that he wouldn’t turn on me again; and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t change that. I finally realised that the relationship was irreparable  – I couldn’t save it – or fix him; and the only path forward, was to properly, and finally, cut all ties.

About a week after that swimming lesson, that’s exactly what I did. “You f*cking b*tch. Where are you? Where the f*ck are you?!” he screamed down the phone for the last time.

Moving on is a process. And unravelling and understanding how such circumstances came about, why I came to be in that relationship, and healing; has been very difficult and taken a lot of time.

Domestic abuse is a complex issue and I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. To identify the causes, help prevent its occurrence, promote healthy relationships and help men and women trapped in abusive relationships, requires us all to look gently but honestly at ourselves, our history and circumstances, both individually and as a society as a whole.

Most importantly, we can’t do that alone. We need considered, well-resourced, holistic and long term support.

It was critical for me to be able to access specialist women’s support services.  I was one of the lucky ones. At my most vulnerable I was able to seek out and access initial support through a hotline and counselling service funded by a women’s charity –  it saved my life – but because of cuts, that service no longer exists. And little did I know, but that was just the beginning of a journey of understanding, healing and growing, which extends much deeper and beyond that one person and that episode in my life.

I have not previously felt able to share this part of my story for a number of reasons. Fear, shame, and not wanting to put this out there without being clear in myself that I understand what happened. But the support and self-knowledge I have now means that I can, and I hope that by sharing this other chapter in my life, I can help others.

Out of the water A Lotus Rises, and thank you to all the women across our growing swimming collective, for empowering me and so many others, in our lives both in and out of the water… Here’s to a future beyond hashtags; and to positive, considered and practical change in our behaviours, policy, systems and culture.

Some useful resources for anyone needing to reach out for support can be found here.

Copyright Alice Gartland 2018



‘My Big Bangla Swim’ We talk swim tips, drowning prevention and swimming the Bangla Channel with Swim Coach and Journalist, Becky Horsbrugh

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.
Push and Glide!
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.
Future Bangla Channel Swimmers in training
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.
Super Swim Smiles!
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.
Becky sharing her swim journey as part of the A Lotus Rises panel at Adventure Uncovered Live
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.
Becky completed the 10km Marathon Swims event at the Olympic Pool in London as part of her training
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!
#alotusrises #wsc


Every body is a swimming body: Sylvia Mac of Love Disfigure shares her swimming journey

Love Disfigure is an initiative born out of a need to raise awareness and support for those living with disfigurement. Founded by swimmer and swim teacher Sylvia Mac, who at the age of 48 dared to bare her scars for the first time. Sylvia’s advocacy is having a positive impact in a variety of areas, including setting up fortnightly swimming sessions for anyone with disfigurement.  Thank you Sylvia for sharing your story (and for your entry to the Women’s Adventure Expo #swimselfie competition!)

When I was 7 years old, my father subscribed myself and my sisters into the local swimming club. I was happy at first until I realised that the other children were staring at me and whispering. Before long, I was being called names such as ‘snakeskin’, ‘witch’ and ‘disgusting’.


My elder sister managed to put a stop to it before it got worse. Because of this incident, I began to plan my route into and out of the swimming pool. When swimming began, I was the last person to leave the changing room and enter the pool. When our Coach called us out of the water, I would hide and pretend I had a stitch or cramp. I became quite popular with my Coach as the child who complained about everything. Little did he know, I was being bullied by the other swimmers, my team mates.

As my swimming improved my father entered me and my sister into League competitions and galas. I remember picking new swim costumes and they were all so revealing. I wouldn’t dare wear a costume with the big cut out hole in the back as this would only make my problems worse. I asked my mum for a big beach towel so my sister could wait at the end of a race with it ready to cover me up from everyone. My sister was my saviour as I never complained to anyone else about my problems. I remember one occasion swimming in a big competition at Crystal Palace leisure centre. At the end of my race, I couldn’t see my sister and became anxious in the water. I remember hearing the officials shouting and whistling at me to climb out of the water. I decided to ignore them and stay in the pool believing my sister would appear very soon. My sister never came until someone shouted over the speaker for me to get out of the pool. I swam under all the lanes to the other side of the pool and quickly ran to the changing room where I locked myself into a locker room. I stayed there until I heard my sister calling me. I was crying and screaming at her but she apologised as she had won her race prior to mine and was celebrating with her friends outside. 

I never won any of my races because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself so ‘pulled back’ during races. I wouldn’t dare ‘place’ in a swim competition because the thought of me being on a rostrum gave me anxiety attacks thinking about everyone staring at me.


As I got older, I realised I wasn’t able to complete exams in school, college or university which meant I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything great in my life. I remember always attending interviews but when I arrived outside I would turn around and go back home. I always lied to my family telling them I did really well but lacking confidence and low self- esteem was always going to stop me in my tracks. I eventually went on to do office work which was never my thing and I was always shy around people worrying how long it would be before they sacked me.

I went on to work in schools with children as I always felt comfortable with them until one day I took them swimming with the teacher. When I arrived, I noticed 2 ladies working there that I use to swim with many years ago. They asked me if I wanted to come and teach swimming with them so I immediately took swim teacher courses and taught non-swimmer schoolchildren. I enjoyed my work so much that I then took on more work in the evenings teaching Adults to swim. I enjoyed teaching people to swim so much that I did extra evenings with special need children. Some years later I took another course in swim coaching and went on to work with a local swimming club teaching/coaching competitive swimmers. I worked in the club for a year until I began having problems with my back so had to give up work.

When I was aged 3 years old, I was severely disfigured in boiling water from an accident at home. My sister was running with me through the house and we were told not to go into the bathroom as my mum had boiled saucepans of water and poured into bowls on the floor for our bath. We lived in a council flat in the East End of London and often ran out of gas and electric so my mum filled the bath for all 5 of my sisters to bathe. I almost died twice from my injuries but was lucky to pull through life support to tell my story today.

Last year July 2016 I went on holiday with my mother and son. Whilst laying around the pool sunbathing a man was videoing me and followed me back and forth. This made me extremely sad and upset that my mum decided we should go to the beach instead. We went up to our room and I put on a beautiful bikini which I would never think of wearing but was bought for me. We made our way to the beach and I could see my mum was very sad as she often stared at my burns and questioned if they hurt me. As I stared at her staring at me, I could feel her sadness so began walking down to the water’s edge. As I was walking I could feel everyone’s eyes on me and turned around to face my mum. I called out to her ‘mum, look at me’ and I began to smile and pose as if I was being photographed. I noticed her face change and she began smiling back at me. I went over to her and said, ‘mum from now on, when people photograph or video me, I will smile and pose then at least I will look great on youtube’.


In October 2016, I released my own video on youtube and bared my scars. Aged now 49 years old, I decided I want to change my life and stop spending my days crying and hiding away so began a FB group called Love Disfigure. I raise awareness and show support for people living with a disfigurement by blogging on my website lovedisfigure.com and sharing beautiful photos of myself and my scars.

I recently released a story to BBC News called ‘my scar and me’ which was surprisingly released online BBC World News. I then went onto release an audio interview on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour which can be found on BBC IPlayer. I will continue campaigning for those affected by their appearance whether scars, burns, marks, skin condition or health conditions. There are thousands of people around the world who continue to suffer with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and PTSD and send me heartfelt messages. When I released my story, many of my friends didn’t know I was burned but only myself and my family knew. It was my choice to keep this to myself as many people continue to do every day in fear of being cast out. We need to let these people know that we are all unique and different in many ways. Do not let life pass you by as I did. I have wasted my life because I had no confidence in myself and my skin.

Today I can finally say ‘I am Beautiful, we are all Beautiful’.



Connect with Love Disfigure on twitter, Facebook, Instagram and via their website.

A Lotus Rises is on a mission to increase visibility, access and participation of women in swimming. Our first collaborative workshop is at the Women’s Adventure Expo on 7th October.  Whether you’re returning to the pool, learning to swim or embarking on the English Channel we will be exploring all that open water has to offer with insights from across our women’s swimming collective and scientific contributions from the international institute of swim cake studies.



Outdoor Swimming: A Gateway to Positive Change

It’s 1.15am and pitch black, apart from the flashing lights attached to my swimming cossy and hat. The gate to the back of the fishing boat is opened and I sit down, dangling my feet above the ‘tropical’ 16 degree Celsius English Channel, about to jump in for my third hour of swimming. I am so excited… our four women relay team is less than two hours from landing in France!

Girls Night Out in the English Channel: Photo Credit Alice Gartland

Swimming is a life skill that is fundamental to being able to take to the water safely, whatever activity we choose; but it’s also a gateway to adventure, well-being and exploration in its own right.
From artist Vivienne Rickman Poole, who is documenting her journey to swim in all 250 lakes of Snowdonia (whatever the weather) and Sam Mould ’s exploration of the tarns in the Lake District, to swimmer- writers inspired by the water like Caitlin Davies, Jenny Landreth, Tanya Shadrick, Outdoor swimming is an activity in which women excel, empowering people’s lives both in and out of the water.

Photo Credit Sam Mould

Not just a catalyst for creativity, outdoor swimming is a channel for international diplomacy, social justice and and positive change.

Becky Sindall, is a water scientist and swimming instructor volunteering with the charity Nile Swimmers in the Lebanon and Sudan to help tackle drowning in Africa, and since Lynne Cox’s 1987 swim of the Bering Straits, helping to melt the cold war, swim diplomats have been building bridges across the globe. For example on 5th May 2017 Kim Chambers brought together a team of international swimmers in the first ever swim from USA to Mexico, that’s following on from her August 2015 swim where she became the first woman to swim from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge – a distance of about 30 miles in waters famed for its Great White Shark inhabitants…If only Kim, Putin, Tump, Xi, May et al went and chilled out for a swim together…

Beth French
Photo Credit Beth French

It’s fair to say, women are dominating the world of endurance swimming at the moment. Chloe McCardel’s three way Channel Crossing and four way channel attempt is part of wave of women, like WAexpo speaker Beth French, redefining the parameters of what’s possible. The diversity of their swim adventures is also breath taking. For example, Jaimie Monahan’s recent swims include an Ice Zero Swim in Tyumen Russia, through to swimming 42.8 miles across Lake Geneva in 32 hours and 52 minutes. And it’s a sport for life, with Sal Minty Gravett and Pat Gallante amongst the leading lights.

Jaimie Monahan swimming at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Iceland. Photo credit Arik Thomahlen

Of course, every swim journey starts with a single splash and the beauty of outdoor swimming is that it is accessible, requires very little kit (wetsuits are optional), and is as challenging as you want it to be: 8-10th August, the wonderful swim spirit Sarah Thomas swam a 104.6 mile route in Lake Champlain and this morning I did 4 lengths of my local lido – it’s all good!

Social media means it’s easy to find local swim groups (never swim outdoors alone) and you soon discover the joy of the outdoor swimming community, it’s love of cake and strong tradition of ‘giving back ‘ and helping others to realise their dreams. Check out the Outdoor Swimming Society, founded by Kate Rew for starters.

And it is very much a team sport, particularly when it comes to long distance challenges, where support crew are critical for route planning and ensuring the safety of the swimmer. Kayaker Shu Pu became the first person to paddle solo across the Pearl River Delta when she supported Simon Holliday on his 35km swim from Hong Kong to Macau and is now organising Simon’s swim around Hong Kong island this November.

Outdoor swimming is a liberator, known to alleviate anxiety and depression and was a sanctuary for me to rebuild my mind and body following a road traffic accident. It is also a ‘leveller’ – I still have no idea what most of the people I swim with ‘do’ for a living; and for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked all of the time, body image seems irrelevant – I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in a swimming costume.

The Thames Marathon Swim: Photo Credit Dan Bullock

Whether splashing around in a loch in Skye, surrounded by seals and crying with laughter with a seaweed wig on my head, competing in international winter swimming festivals in China, or jumping in the English Channel at 1.15 am, the rewards of rewards of outdoor swimming are immense.

Back in the Channel, I finish my final hour of swimming and Kathrine takes over, landing us in France at around 2.40am. Exhausted, elated and wrapped up in our sleeping bags on deck, our sense of accomplishment and capability envelopes us as we sail home and a spectacular orange and pink sunrise emerges; it’s incredible what can happen when you take to the water…

Happy Swimming


A Lotus Rises, the swim blog for women who love Open Water. She’ll be presenting the Guide to open water swimming at WAExpo 2017, the Women’s Adventure Expo’s flagship event on the 7th of October, sponsored by Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and with assistance from the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies.


Ellery McGowan #alotusrises

Ellery McGowan is an outdoor swimmer with a swim cv and sense of adventure that inspires the swimming community. Her swim highlights include Lake Zurich, Ederle, Manhattan, Toroneos Gulf and Kalamata plus 5 Channel relays and 4 Winter Swimming Championships, Most recently she completed an All Women Relay of the English Channel, setting a new record for the Oldest Women’s Channel Relay, with a combined age of 393. Team Members were Irene Keel (76), Ellery McGowan (70),Chris Pitman (66), Dee Richards (62) Sally Minty Gravett (59) and Kathy Batts (57) and the time taken to cross was 15 hours and 17 minutes. Ellery is also a swim teacher and swimming coach at Charterhouse.

Ellery at Tooting Lido (note the leaf is not a tattoo!). Credit Ellery McGowan

In 2015 Ellery’s son James, an accomplished athlete, passed away from Adult Sudden Death Syndrome and she is now using swimming as a platform to raise awareness of Cardiac Risk in the Young , an organisation which draws attention to the range of conditions that can cause young sudden cardiac death. Each week in the UK at least 12 fit and healthy young people die of undiagnosed heart conditions. She has raised several thousand dollars in 2015 alone by her challenge undertaking “5 Swims in 5 Countries for a Five Star Son”.

A Lotus Rises caught up with Ellery to talk about her swimming journey, what inspires her and her adventures.

Why did you start outdoor swimming?

I taught myself to swim at aged 5 in an estuary in Tasmania and later swam in rivers and dams. There were no swimming pools in the vicinity of where I lived. However I took up masters swimming when I moved to Germany on 1991 and as I had never been in a club I could not even kick 25metres. I competed in Masters but in 2004 saw a stand in Riccione for SwimTrek and signed up for my first trip to Turkey. I loved every minute of it, swimming the Hellespont and a 10km swim across to Bozcaada among other swims. I felt at home once again.

What have been the highs and lows in your swimming journey and how do you stay motivated?

My first open water race was at the World Masters in Edmonton  in 2005 where I came back with a gold medal which surprised me…. That was a high!

My lowest of low was not making it to France as a solo in 2015. I was pulled out after 11 hours in the French Shipping lane. I hate not finishing what I set out to do and not completing Rottnest in February due to the strong currents and not making the cut-off was also disappointing

What do you think are the three most important things for effective swim training?

I train regularly but think self- discipline, consistency in training and motivation to do so and cross training are essential.

What three tips do you have for swimmers new to open water?

  • Swim with an open mind
  • Enjoy the experience- every swim will be different.
  • Don’t put stress on oneself by hoping to finish in an unrealistic time.
Ellery enjoying the 30km Kalamata Swim in  2016. Credit Ellery McGowan

How do you prepare for your swim challenges?

I am fortunate that I can train by myself and have the self-discipline to do so, but I also go on training camps to be with like- minded people.

I have a feeding plan which works for me and I have used for the last seven years! (Maxim and High5 isogel alternating along with half a banana every 3 hours)

A “Tupperware” box goes with me containing “ouch” for jelly fish stings, Voltaren for inflammation, ibuprofen for pain relief, an anti-histamine cream, sturgeron for sea sickness, night lights, safety pins etc. I cannot recall when I last used any of these apart from Voltaren on my 30km Kalamata swim last September.

How do you avoid injury?

I listen to my body but after a shoulder injury over 10 years ago I concentrated on my technique. I do two Pilates sessions a week, one yoga and a gyrotonics to keep my body supple and for core strength. I also do two spin classes for cardio.

Ellery and her record setting Channel Relay friends! Credit Ellery McGowan

Why did you do the English Channel relay? How was it?! 

We had planned to do a two way in 2015 but were weathered out and managed to start a one way. However a massive storm hit us for the last few hours. I remember at 11:00 at night swimming in lightening and hail for the whole of my swim with everyone else in the cabin of Anastasia sheltering. Two hours later the seas became rough, the boat was lifted out of the water as winds reached 40 knots and we had to call it a day for safety just 2 miles off the French Coast.

Kathy re-booked with Eddie Spelling for this year , first on the tide but as the weather was not so good we went a day early, with just one replacement member due to injury. The first relay was four months before James died and this was the first time I had been in the Channel since. We all felt the cold after our first night swim which was pretty rough too but we had a full moon which was beautiful. Conditions smoothed out during my second leg but the third was magical coming towards the white cliffs of Les Escalles. I swam very hard and was just 17 minutes from the landing. I felt James was with me all the way in that glorious sunshine.

Ellery McGowan

Has swimming helped cope with your bereavement?

Most definitely. I think of him a lot during my swims and I know the money I raise is now going towards research and screening. We have two days of screening planned at Charterhouse in June which will be covered by money from James’ memorial fund.


Most of all I look back and know that the cold water swimming has put me in a good place. I have no problem in getting into -0.2 water in Siberia with air at -15 and swimming a 100m race. The feeling afterwards is always elating.

Your swimming accomplishments range from marathon swims to winter swimming championship medals – do you have a favourite swim and also, what next?

Every swim is different because of the elements, but I think possibly Toroneos Gulf has been my favourite. I was invited to do this by a Greek marathon swimmer whom I met on “The Big Blue” after swimming Manhattan. He sadly died earlier this year, also at a young age, from cancer. The swim was 26 km in the beautiful Ionian Sea, a wonderful atmosphere and in Greece everyone who finishes is a winner. To swim in hearing Vangelis playing loudly and having a huge wreath of olive leaves placed over my head by two fellow Greek swimming friends was just amazing.

What is your favourite swim cake?

I am not a great cake eater but would never say no to any, especially a rum cake!

What is your favourite swimming costume for open water and why?

I have a few but at the moment it is knee length Agon with an Australian design and my name ELLERY emblazoned on the front. (Just in case I forget who I am!)

Out of the water A Lotus Rises…Thank you Ellery!






Tough Girl Podcast #alotusrises

Really honoured to be on Sarah William’s Tough Girl Podcast, talking about the background to A Lotus Rises, how being hit by a lorry on the way to work the day before my 31st birthday helped change my path, how I got into outdoor swimming, tips for starting out in open water, adventures and challenges in and out of the water, China, career change, community, cake and the power and plans of our growing swimming collective.

Link to the interview here and you can also download it on iTunes and Soundcloud


Continue reading “Tough Girl Podcast #alotusrises”

A Lotus Rises at Adventure Uncovered Live

Exciting times! A Lotus Rises is presenting a swimspiratonal panel at Adventure Uncovered Live, part of a night of story telling exploring journeys with a purpose, at the ICA on 30th October. We’d love it if you can join us!


Topics include “Sustainability and empowerment in everyday life“, “Social impact through responsible adventure“, “Adventures for Conservation” and “working towards a world free of plastic pollution“. This will be a fun interactive night of discussion on “realistic and underwhelming steps to positive change”.

Becky Horsbrugh @BeckyRLH

Clearly, changing the world for the better one swim at a time is a team sport and in our panel “Outdoor Swimming A Gateway for positive Change” Alice is joined by the swimspirational Becky Horsbrugh whose swimming journey has taken her from open water novice to qualified swim teacher and drowning prevention advocate; working with local stakeholders in Bangladesh to develop a drowning prevention scheme.

Emma Watson @moywatson #waitingforthecall campaign. Picture by Photographer Laura Ward @LauraKiora

Then we travel back to the streets, landmarks and public transport of London with Emma M Watson, to discuss how her empowering #waitingforthecall campaign, in which she is photographed in various every day situations in her Channel swimming gear, is raising awareness of endometriosis and challenging a myriad of preconceptions in the process. WE ARE EXCITED! May be we should follow Emma’s lead and present in our swimming costumes, hat and goggles…

#alotusrises #womensswimmingcollective #WSC