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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

www.c-r-y.org.uk/memorial-funds/james-mcgowan/

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!

 

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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.