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!

AliceGartlandChannel

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.

SamMould.JPG

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.

JaimieMonahanPhotocreditArikThormahlen

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.

ThamesMarathonswimstartphotocreditDanBullock

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

Alice

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.

A_Lotus_Rises_Blue_Red

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

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!

22228617_10155604378810168_1879026377173216589_n

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-520x324

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.

IMG_2735

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  

#we’requiteexcitedthtourlogocanalsobeanicenevironmentallyfriendlygreentoo

A_Lotus_Rises_Blue_Green

SLSC Plunge Championship Practice

Tomorrow is the most hotly contested event in the South London Swimming Club calendar – The Plunge Championships, and today I accompanied some of SLSC’s elite swimmers in their training and preparation…

Plunge diving is a tradition that dates back to the 1904 Olympics. Basically you dive in and see how far you can float – no kicking or underwater swimming allowed.

The biggest issue I found was with keeping my goggles on.

However other swimmers were able to dive without even using their goggle straps #eliteplungeskills

pollyanddangogglesnostrap

Whilst traditionally plunge diving is a solo event, today we achieved what we believe to be a world first: A 4 Person Plunge…

4personplunge3

As these pics demonstrate, tomorrows race is likely to be the toughest yet in SLSC club history, with race marshals needing to be vigilant of any attempts by competitors to gain unfair advantage…

Dandive7.JPG

Unconfirmed reports that Dan A may have been edging forward at the bottom of the pool…

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!