Category Archives: Women in Sport

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.

The BIG Chill Swim! Event review by Helen Gilburt

With a backdrop of snow tipped mountains, there’s nowhere in England quite like Lake Windermere for a swimming gala. So like 100’s of others, last weekend I travelled to Low Wood Bay to take part in the Big Chill Swim. For anyone who has never been to a winter swim event or been put off by taking part in a ‘gala’ the Big Chill Swim is a prime demonstration of how eclectic and inclusive cold water swimming is. My first year I signed up for the 60m and 120m events but 3 events on, I’ve been building up and along with 2 shorter distances I was finally entered into the British 1 kilometre Championships.

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The Big Chill Swim, water a bracing 7.3 degrees: Photo Credit Helen Gilbert

The event kicked off on Saturday with the 450m endurance event. Yet again I asked myself – why does everything I enter have to start first thing in the morning?! Despite all the training, I always feel awash with nerves. It’s only when you get into the final briefing and take your allotted seat, when the opportunity for ‘just one more wee’ has finally passed that it’s time to go with the flow. For our group that meant a lot of banter and laughter enhanced with someone explaining to the younger age category sat opposite ours that “this is what you’ll look like in 5 years time!”

I can’t say it was a disaster (I took 3rd place in my age category) but it certainly wasn’t what I visualised. Perhaps the tell-tale sign that yet again the adrenaline had got the better of me and I’d gone off too fast was that 3 lengths in out of 15 all I could think about was how out of breath I was.

Between swims you often have quite a bit of time, but swimming is only part of what Big Chill Swim is. Like other events, I often travel on my own. This can seem a bit daunting at first but the common bond of winter swimming means there’s always someone to chat with. And if you’re not embroiled sharing stories with one of the many teams in attendance, there’s always the relay. Teams of 4, each member racing 30m for me is one of the highlights of the event. Not for the speed per se but the diversity and creativity of the fancy dress at play. You’ve heard of 4 lords a leaping, but can you imagine 4 turkeys swimming… not to mention the obligatory mankinis.

For many Saturday was completed with a buffet and barn dance at the fabulous Low Wood Hotel, but for me it was a burger and bed in preparation for the 1k event. Yes, as you’ve guessed, yet another early morning. Big Chill Swim is associated with the International Winter Swimming Association attracting participants from across the world. With two ladies from Finland, one from the US and one from Chile – our race was certainly a demonstration of that.

So what will I be taking from this year’s event? A gold, silver and bronze in 3 separate events and entry to the Big Chill Swim 1k club, learning how to sauna the Finnish way (on your back with your feet and hands in the air) but most importantly a growing group of friends to hang out with at next year’s event.

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Champion! Photo Credit: Helen Gilbert

 

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.

New Blog: A Swim Teaching Adventure Begins! #alotusrises

I love swimming. There aren’t many fundamental life skills, that can not only save your life, but also open the door to new friends, well-being, and adventures. Knowing the capacity for swimming and the swimming community to empower our lives both in and out of the water, for a long time, it has been my hope to apply what I’ve learnt since I started swimming again, and help other people access, enjoy and be safe in the water.

So, two weeks ago I completed the ASA Level 1 Teaching Aquatics qualification. From day 1 candidates were in the pool working as teaching assistants, alongside Level 2 teachers instructing students aged 5-9 years old with varying levels of swimming experience.

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Learning by doing – straight into the water to appreciate the different elements of the strokes. Photo Credit: Aquability TTC

It’s a busy week learning about the 4 strokes, gaining insights on interpersonal communication, the policy and legal frameworks in which swim teachers operate and of course getting in the pool supporting the teachers and also leading some parts of the sessions. Continue reading New Blog: A Swim Teaching Adventure Begins! #alotusrises

Totally Bondi! A Lotus Rises meets endurance swimmer and surf life saver Kristy McIntyre

Kristy McIntyre is an endurance swimmer who lives in Sydney. Her swim adventures include solo swims of Lake Zurich, The English Channel and Rottnest. Two years ago, Kristy joined the Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club, Australia’s oldest life saving club founded in 1907 (and perhaps the world’s first ever life saving club).

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Kristy is a volunteer lifesaver and trainer, and, with a group of 4 others, recently trained 19 new lifesavers over 11 weeks. The training programme includes practical and theory classes that teach new recruits: how to communicate on the beach, CPR & first aid, skills to negotiate the surf swimming and on a board, how to rescue conscious and unconscious patients and treat spinal injuries.

Kristy talked to A Lotus Rises about what it takes to train as a life-saver and the importance of swim community in her swimming journey.

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Epic Sydney Harbour Swim Selfie!

Why did you become part of the Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club?

 There are so many long distance swimmers who owe their success to volunteers. Before moving to Sydney, I lived in London and was part of the Serpentine Swimming club. I loved the ethos and volunteering culture of the club. The club and it’s community were a big part of why I loved living in London. When I moved to Sydney, I joined Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving as I wanted to continue to volunteer in our local community, to meet like-minded people, improve my surf skills, and, as I’d just returned from the UK with my English partner (Mark) it was a great way to re-integrate Mark and I into Australian life and teach him all the things he needed to know about the ocean. It also happens to be home to the largest population of British people in Australia.

What is the role of life savers on Bondi beach?

Bondi Beach is one of the busiest beaches in the country, on a hot day we can get 30,000 people at the beach in a day, we do more rescues in a day than some surf clubs do in a year. Bondi is one of the Sydney beaches that is patrolled all year round by paid council lifeguards (think Bondi Rescue). The volunteer lifesavers patrol from September to April on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays, we wear red and yellow uniforms and volunteer a minimum of 6 hours, 1 in every 3 weekends.  At Bondi there are two volunteer clubs, Bondi and North Bondi and members of both clubs work alongside the lifeguards to keep beach goers safe. We rescue people who are in difficulty in the ocean, treat broken bones & dislocations, treat cuts & abrasions, help find lost children, take tourist photos and even provide directions.

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Hello Bondi!

What do you need to do to qualify as a life saver? 

 To qualify as a lifesaver requires undertaking an 11 week bronze medallion course which consists of 1 x 2hr theory class, 1 x 3 hour practical class and additional board and swimming training every week. To pass this course you’ll need to swim 400m in under 9 minutes, complete a 200m run – 200m swim – 200m run, in under 8 minutes, rescue an unconscious person from behind breaking waves using a board, demonstrate your ability to work as a team, communicate on the beach, perform CPR, lift unconscious patients, treat spinal injuries and provide first aid.

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What are the common dangers swimmers need to look out for and what are the kind of situations you encounter?

At a patrolled beach, swimmers should always swim between the red and yellow flags, this is the most watched place for you to swim. If you’ve decided not to swim between the flags or there are no flags you need to look at the ocean, if there are no waves breaking and the water is darker in colour, this indicates a channel that the water is using to go back out to sea (commonly known as a rip). Don’t go swimming in a rip, if you do find yourself in a rip, don’t try to swim back to shore against it, swim across it to where the waves are breaking and take the waves back into shore. Rip’s won’t kill you and won’t drag you under the water, they’ll take you out past the break zone and then they dissipate, if you want to return to shore quickly, the quickest way is using the waves.

Blue bottles or stingers will sting initially, but you can treat them very effectively with what you have on the beach. Use the salt water to pull the stinger off yourself (you can touch this with your fingers it won’t hurt you), then try a warm shower, or failing that lifesavers will have ice and/or stingose at their patrol tent.

Another danger is diving head first into sand banks, if you’re at a beach you’ve never been to before, walk out into the water and look for where the sand banks are, if you’re going to dive or surf a wave make sure your arms are always outstretched in front of you, this will help protecting your head and neck.

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Kristy enjoying the 2016 Rottnest swim

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 SwimCake and why?

Banana cake with cream cheese frosting, not too sweet, its quiet dense so you get a lot of energy from it and when your mouth is all salty after a long swim, it doesn’t sting it.

YUM! Thank you Kristy!

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Rottnest Complete!

 

 

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!

 

Splash! The Swimming Initiative Empowering Lives In An Out Of The Water in Hong Kong

Simon Holliday has lived in HK for two years and has spent a lot of that time swimming in the surprisingly beautiful waters around Hong Kong. He is a Channel swimmer and became the second person to swim from HK to Macau in 2014. Last year he co-founded Splash – a swim school for Foreign Domestic Workers and under-privileged young people in Hong Kong. A Lotus Rises spoke to Simon and Naive, a recent Splash! graduate to find out more about this fantastic initiative that is empowering women both in and out of the water.

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Splash! From the Pool…
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…To Open Water!

What is Splash?

Splash conducts free learn-to-swim and water safety courses for targeted communities who may not have access or financial resources for swim lessons. 

Taught by experienced coaches in a supportive group setting, Splash swimmers learn an important life skill while developing confidence and well-being both in and out of the water.  We are a bunch of volunteers – some with a coaching background some without – who wanted to share the sport we love.

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Why did you found Splash?

Foreign Domestic Workers play a pivotal but under-appreciated role in Hong Kong society.  They are required to live with their employers in invariably tiny living quarters. They have no legal rights in Hong Kong.  Should they lose their job, they are required to leave Hong Kong within two weeks. They make a huge sacrifice to work in Hong Kong, leaving children, extended family and friends behind in The Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia.

They work six days a week and on their ONE day off many congregate in the central business district and other open areas sitting on pieces of cardboard, playing cards, sharing food and catching up with friends.  We felt some of these women would like the opportunity to use this time to learn a life skill.  Swimming has been such an important part of my life and we wanted to share our love of the water with others.  It is quite a selfish activity really as we (the coaches) seem to get at least as much enjoyment from the sessions as the participants!

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What impact does it have?

Last year we helped nearly 200 Foreign Domestic Workers to learn to swim.  We have also seen some of our swimmers go on to compete in open water competitions.  These were women who had just learned to swim competing against people who had swam all their lives.  They fail and succeed with a smile on their faces and are always willing to give it a try.

But swimming is really just the vehicle.  We have seen participants grow in confidence out of the water.  Friendships develop.  And more people are joining a small but growing open water community. 

What are your hopes for the future?

This year, we hope to help nearly 700 Foreign Domestic Workers learn to swim.  We are also developing programmes for under-privileged young people.

Longer term, we hope to continue to build swimming communities in parts of Hong Kong and other countries in Asia.  

Congratulations to the Splash Winter 2016 graduates!

 

Naive Gascon, a recent Splash! graduate also shares her experience. Naive joined Splash as a beginner swimmer and now regularly enjoys 4km swims in open water.

Why did you participate in Splash?

I participated in Splash because i really wanted to learn how to swim. When I got here in Hong Kong, I looked for opportunities to grow, learn things and have fun on my day off. Before, I participated in free learning stuff offered from different organization such as Yoga, Cooking, etc.  and then Splash came. Swimming just captured my heart!

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Naive flying out of the water!

What did you gain from participating in Splash?

Friends, happiness, fun. It has boosted my self esteem and given a sense of “belongingness”, which I struggled with when I first got here. I also learnt a lot from people I met, which is pretty awesome. The  short time since learning learned how to swim has shaped me not just physically, but also as a human being. There is so much love in Splash. 

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Naive at the end of an open water swim training session with Hungarian marathon swimmer Manyoki Attila

How can people support Splash?

We need more volunteer coaches, more pairs of goggles and more money to offer more free learn to swim programmes.  Details of lessons, coaching opportunities and how to make a donation can be found here .

 

 

 

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!