Tag Archives: Featured

Women Only Swimming Cancelled Following Discrimination Complaint

A swimming pool has cancelled its weekly one hour women only swimming session after they were asked to justify why they run the sessions, under the Equalities Act 2010.

Female only swimming sessions will no longer be held at  Dursley pool after a complaint by one man was made under the Equalities Act 2010 –  the Council was contacted and asked to justify why women only sessions were offered as they were likely to be in breach of the Act.

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Whilst one’s immediate reaction may be WTF, this is vexatious bullS*&%, the decision to stop the sessions is apparently driven by concerns of adhering with the law.

We’re not an expert on the Equalities Act, but one can’t help but wonder that this use of the legislation is perhaps not the purpose for which it was intended.

Core guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission sets out that there are exceptions to the general rules of equality law, and subject to meeting particular criteria, female only as well as mixed swimming sessions are actually given as an example of one such exception.

There also seems to be an issue of proportionality here – this appears to be a one hour weekly session – was there, could there have been a discussion about how best to resolve this? What prompted the complaint – is this an opportunity to understand the needs and concerns of the different stakeholders involved? Could it be that a men only session as well as a female only session is needed, and is possible?

Perhaps there is a particular circumstance unique to this pool that means unlike many other pools across the UK, they cannot hold women only sessions?

That conversation is particularly important as there is, quite simply, a crisis in swimming in the UK:

In the past decade over 1/2 million women gave up swimming in the UK  because of fears about how they look. And more than three times as many women as men stopped swimming between 2005 and 2014 – indicating the value in women only swim sessions

In 2015, 181,700 women quit swimming compared with 63,300 men.

Back in 2015 Claire Cohens article in the Telegraph described how the This Girl Can campaign that encourages women to get active and helps break down barriers to sports participation, was driven by research from Sport England that identified that a fear of judgment was the biggest barrier to participation in sport; and that fear, “far outweighs women’s confidence to exercise.” Concerns ranged from embarrassment over sporting ability to worries about appearance – women only sessions help to reduce such barriers.

Female only swim sessions are important and they are needed.

Of course the barriers to participation in sport and swimming and the health crisis in the UK is not limited to women:

1/5 adults in the UK can’t swim; and 

45% of 11 year olds are unable to swim 

It’s time no just to talk, but to take positive action on swimming as a life skill, a gateway to well being for everyone –  learning to swim is a human right.

It was really exciting to see that Catherine West MP is setting up an all party group on swimming to address access and participation and other issues.

The article in the local newspaper the  Gazette, says that the council are looking at whether the sessions can be reinstated under Sport England’s guidelines. We shall see, but in the meantime, the action to cancel the sessions, no doubt raises concerns that there is a lack understanding and care towards women in sport in the local administration. In the meantime you can sign the petition to reinstate the sessions here.

Post script:

I wrote this quickly having seen the petition on twitter. I just finished writing and saw this post. Yep.

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

 

 

Oceans 7 in 1 Year

In September 2016, British Endurance Swimmer Beth French will commence her world record setting challenge to swim the Oceans Seven in one year. She will be swimming to highlight the relationship humans have with our fragile but vital oceans, looking at environmental issues in the marine ecology as she goes.

French is no stranger to overcoming incredible challenges. In 1993 ME had caused her to be wheelchair bound, but she recovered after almost a decade since contracting this debilitating syndrome. As such, she has, “different parameters for coping.”

Her previous swims include, the English Channel, the Molokai Channel – a British female first and the 26 mile Scilly Island Channel from Cornwall to St Mary’s – a world first. A Lotus Rises spoke to French about this incredible challenge and the power of mind over matter both in and out of the water.

Beth Swimming XXX
Beth in her element

This is EPIC! What inspired you to undertake this challenge?

I concocted the mad notion that I could swim all oceans seven channels in a year when I was up a gum tree, about 5miles from completing my solo crossing of the Molokai channel in Hawaii.

A couple of miles earlier, I had hit a wall… Recent heart-break meant I fell off the wagon psychologically, and I’d been beating my pain into the water for about 7hrs before that. My left elbow had twinged previously and all of a sudden, I couldn’t move it at all. My left shoulder froze- I could no longer get it out of the water to swim front crawl, nor could I put any resistance through it via breaststroke.

But this channel swimming lark is not for the faint hearted (or sane) so I one arm doggy paddled the last 7 miles, which with the Pacific swells, took me a further 12 hrs.

I’m not ashamed of holding the longest crossing of the Molokai channel to date- I swam for 24hrs 10mins, non stop. I realised that I loved channel swimming, but wanted more than an expensive day trip- I wanted to see if I knew how to drive my body well enough to recover quickly for the next one…. And the next one…

Having recovered from ME, which is relentless, I have different parameters for coping, I guess.

Beth French

What order will you complete the swims? What are the logistical challenges?

The order I am attempting the channels is to begin with the north channel from Ireland to Scotland. I want that one in the bag – It’ll be the coldest and I don’t want to have to attempt that without a full tank of gas. Then the Catalina channel in California, then the Molokai channel, the Cook Straits of New Zealand, the Straits of Gibraltar, Tsugaru channel in Japan and finishing with the English Channel in time for my 40th birthday.

How do you prepare physically? What does your training schedule look like and how will you avoid injury and ensure you have time to recover between swims?

Preparing for something like this is a pretty individual thing – I train a lot less than people expect, due to my ex ME health and hyper mobility.

I can’t train twice a day, or even every day like some competitive pool swimmers. I’m a single mum, which actually helps with the mental training and dealing with sleep deprivation, so they are not new experiences. I have a very physical job, 9hrs of deep tissue massage back to back 3 days a week and I’ll go train after at least one of them to really get the endurance going.

I sporadically torture myself with random sets of say, an hour and a half legs only, or towing my son in a dinghy in the sea.

You use what you have, so I get my son to sit on my hips and do lengths of front crawl with a 7yr old on me- great resistance training and efficient use of time.

Avoiding injury would be nice- because of my job I am pretty clued up with body mechanics so I go to the gym a couple of times a week to work on specific areas that need strengthening.

I also avoid over training. In this kind of event, one channel becomes training for the next, so it’s a perpetual taper once you are in it.

Beth French

You were ordained as a Buddhist nun. Please can you describe the relationship between your meditation practice and swimming. In particular, the importance of mindset for endurance swims.

In my 20’s when I was wandering the world learning different indigenous answers to ME, I ordained as a Buddhist nun in Thailand in order to intensively study vipasanna meditation, which has been popularised as mindfulness.

The mind is such an incredible weapon, but without training it easily works against us. The monastery was such an amazing experience and taught me so much about inner strength.

Swimming is a dichotomy of sensory deprivation and overload at the same time. You are forced to come face to face with your internal workings both physically and mentally and it is invariably your emotions that end a swim. You are immersed in your experiences moment to moment so you have to have a really strong grip on how you handle highs and lows to ride them out regardless in order to keep going.

Euphoria may feel great, but allow it to bubble up too much and you’ll be exhausted the next minute or hit a depression and slump. Learning to shepherd your emotional state means you can channel anything back into your swim.

Beth French

After 6hrs, you rely on your mind about 50%, I reckon. After 12 hrs it goes up to 65% mind, then when you are talking 20+ hrs, I’d say 80% is mental. Think it and your body will follow.

As you know, at A Lotus Rises we are working in partnership with the International Institute of Swim Cake Studies (IISCS), on a global research project to answer the question: What is the best cake for optimum swim performance?  Please can you help us with this critical research – What is your cake of choice for your Oceans 7 Challenge?

I am happy to help with this important research.  My cake of choice is a malt chocolate coconut fudge brownie. You can read a blog post I wrote about that on my website here.

What’s your favourite swim spot and swimming cossy?

My favourite swim spot in the world is kealakekua bay on the big island of Hawaii. The water is so stunningly clear, spinner dolphins come in to play and it’s utter heaven.

In England, I think you’d have a hard job beating the Isles of Scilly. Gin clear water, stunning scenery.

Beth in her favourite cossy
Beth in her favourite cossy

My fave cozzie is a metallic fish scale print little number by the finals. I’ve seen an awesome one that has your internal organs printed on it- would love to get my hands on that! I enjoy a collection of novelty hats too, including a minion one that says have a nice day of the back of it and a good old candy skull one.

Thank you Beth and thank you for letting us be part of your wonderful adventure!

You can follow Beth’s incredible journey on Twitter and Facebook.

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!

 

CAKE

Openwater swimming and cake; they’re spiritually aligned, but what is the best cake for optimum swim performance?  Once again at A Lotus Rises, we’re putting ourselves on the frontline to answer the very toughest questions in open water swimming.

Photo from an earlier research project about French patisseries
Photo from an earlier research project about French patisseries. Photo credit Cat Channon

Today was the official start of what could be a lifetime of research.* Daunting for some, but we believe we have the focus and tenacity to swim and eat cake for as long as it takes and wherever it takes us – all over the world if necessary.

No more sleepless nights wondering what’s the best cake for the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim… An end to such anguish we say! It’s time to seek out the very best in openwater baking and share that knowledge with the world.

So this morning we travelled for a whole 45 minutes to Tooting Bec Lido to meet with one of the world’s foremost openwater bakers, Fiona Bettles.

Barbarer and Fiona
Barbara  (creator of cheese scones made from a top secret recipe) and Fiona holding a plate which once had St Clement and Blueberry Polenta cake on it

On the menu today was a medicinal** few hundred metres in brisk turquoise water followed by St Clements and Blueberry Polenta Cake, devoured in the Autumn sunshine with a cup of PG Tips. Some swimmers had coffee.

Happy Winter Swimming! St Clements Polenta Cake with Blueberries , created by openwater cake baking legend Fiona Bettles
Happy Winter Swimming! St Clements Polenta Cake with Blueberries , created by openwater cake baking legend Fiona Bettles

A Lotus Rises scientific swim-cake evaluation: Fresh, light, fruity with a whole lot of zing – Bloomin Gorgeous. Swim performance? JUST LIKE Katie Ledecky – incredible!

Here is a link to the original Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe.

Bettles rarely gives interviews, but did pass on this scientific baking tip ‘I never use more than 180 g of sugar as this seems more than enough’. Thanks Bettles.

At A Lotus Rises, we need to eat more cake so that you can optimise your swimming potential. If you can help us help you, please get in touch with your recipes as we’d love to feature  you and your swimming cakes on the blog.

* This groundbreaking scientific research would not be possible without funding from  the International Institute of Swim-Cake Studies.  Thank you for your support.

**It was a bit of a late night of elite endurance athlete dancing.

The Women Champion Swimmers of the World You’ve Never Heard of, and other stories…

In April I went to a talk by Caitlin Davies about her book “Downstream. A History of Swimming the River Thames.” It’s a beautiful book and a timely accompaniment to the renaissance in Thames swimming that is blossoming this summer.

But more than that, Downstream tells the story of the British Capital ‘s river and the fantastic female swimmers whose mind blowing swimming feats along it, leapfrogged society’s imagined and real parameters of gender; were a training ground for global swimming endeavours; and helped pave the way for women everywhere to enjoy the freedom of the water.

Arabella Buck and friends enjoying a Tidal Thames swim
Arabella Buck enjoying a Tidal Thames Swim from Hammersmith to Chiswick pier in Summer 2015

 

The Pioneers

Putney Bridge is the focal point of a number of these swims. In 1905, Annette Kellerman swam from Putney through the “Flotsam and Jetsam” of the Thames, and on to a variety of international swimming achievements and global recognition[1]. She also designed what is regarded as the first modern swimsuit for women, and fought for the right of women to wear a fitted one piece bathing suit .

Annette Kellerman
Annette Kellerman

Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the Channel also used the Thames as a training ground and swam 27 miles from Putney to Silvertown in 1923.

Mercedes Gleitze

It is a powerful coincidence that feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, author of “Vindication of the Rights of Women”, threw herself from Putney bridge into the River Thames back in 1795. “How desperate she must have been, and how ideal the Thames would have seemed as a place to end it all for someone who couldn’t swim,” writes Davies.[2] Miraculously Wollstonecraft survived.

Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women

As Davies describes, the liberation of these swims is juxtaposed with the social norms that they were swimming against. Downstream provides a home for the collective achievements of the female swimming pioneers, who it appears until now, have received only a patchwork of recognition or whose achievements have been lost in the passage of time.

Not to spoil what is a must read for any open water swimmer (or anyone really) the Downstream Swimming Hall of Fame includes the following incredible women, many of whose swimming stories you may never have heard of:

The Long Distance Lady Swimmer of the World Eileen Lee; The Smiling Swimmer Lily Hawke; and more recently in 1985 Alison Streeter the Queen of the Channel, swam the tidal Thames and in 2013 Ness Knight became the first woman to swim the length of the non tidal Thames – I know – it’s not just David Walliams!

Ness Knight
Ness Knight

 

Agnes Beckwith, the original #ThisGirlCan

The woman who inspired Davies to write the book is Agnes Beckwith who in 1875, at the age of 14, ‘plunged into the Thames’[3] and swam from London Bridge to Greenwich. I was born just down the road in Woolwich and hearing Davies talk about Agnes I was so inspired. She is the original #ThisGirlCan of openwater swimming and thoughts of Agnes and these other wonderful women have flickered through my mind throughout this summer of swimming.

Agnes Beckwith
Agnes Beckwith

As part of her father “Swimming Professor Beckwith’s” swim troop, Agnes performed various swimming feats but separately accomplished a variety of groundbreaking endurance swims, she also had plans to swim the Channel (thwarted by a lack of finances) and paved the way for British Women to represent their country in the 1912 Olympics. [4]

I was really excited to see Agnes appear in her famously pink frilled swimming attire as one of the lead characters in the new film Captain Webb, which tells the story of Captain Matthew Webb the first person to swim the English Channel. The 140th Anniversary of his historic swim was yesterday, 25th August.

Captain Webb

It’s a nice film, but despite her obvious passion for swimming and strength of character, the film falls short of representing Agnes Beckwith as the swimming pioneer and talent that she was.

Champion Swimmer Agnes Beckwith
Champion Swimmer Agnes Beckwith

A love story also develops between Agnes and Webb. So much so, that when Agnes believes Webb’s rival in the race to swim the Channel, American and showman Paul Boyton will sabotage Webb’s swim, she offers herself to Boyton in exchange for him staying out of the way of Webb’s swim (Boyton declines).

Clearly I’ve never met Agnes but I’m just not sure she would have been up for getting her baps out on Webb’s behalf. It sounds like she would have been more likely to jump in the Channel ahead of them both (if she’d had the funding to do so), leaving them to fight it out for second place.

Nothing wrong with a bit of artistic licence of course (and after all I realise in 1875 at the time of Webb’s swim Agnes was actually just 14 years old, swimming to Greenwich and perhaps inspired by Webb), but it feels like having chosen to give a prominent role to Beckwith, an opportunity was missed to represent her more strongly as a pioneer in parallel to Webb.

That unease wasn’t helped in the Q&A after the film screening, when having briefly mentioned Agnes was in fact an accomplished endurance Thames swimmer, one of the panel then quipped that Agnes was a “tank”.

Not quite the respect Agnes Beckwith deserves and hooray for Caitlin Davies and Downstream, for providing an accurate reference point and mnemonic for these female pioneers of swimming.

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

The Pioneers Continue

Coinciding with the 140th anniversary of Captain Webb’s swim yesterday, BBC Woman’s Hour featured an interview with Davies and Doloranda Pember, the daughter of Mercedes Gleitze (the first British woman to swim the English Channel) about Gleitze and some of these other pioneers.

It’s a wonderful listen, and includes anecdotes about how many of the female swimmers liked gramophones to be on their support boats, so they could have a musical accompaniment to their swims. It reminded me of my friend Lisa who recently swam the Channel with “Rule Britannia” booming out of the support boat speakers as she headed into  shore after an epic 17 hours of swimming.

And so the female pioneers continue…

Just a couple of weeks ago, from 8-10 August, we witnessed a truly extraordinary weekend for women’s open water swimming:

Chloe McCardel achieved the once in a generation feat of a three-way English Channel crossing (the first woman was Alison Streeter in 1990).

Also in the Channel that day was Sam Mould, a relative novice to open water swimming who was Flying to France the hard way as part of the world record butterfly relay team; following on from  Annabel Lavers*,  who had kicked off the whole weekend with her Channel success on the 7th and whose Channel Swimming journey is one of the most inspiring I know.

Sam Mould Flying along the River Thames
Sam Mould in training, Flying along the River Thames

On a different part of the French coast Wendy Trehiou was also busy making history as the first person to swim 36 miles from Jersey to St Malo; and on the other side of the globe, the awesome Kim Chambers became the fourth person and first woman to complete the “toughest swim in the world’ the Farallon Island swim.

“My goal is to be inspiring young girls,” said Chambers. “I want them to dream big.”

Here’s the trailer for the film about Kim’s swim, that will be released shortly. Historic times!

 

Back in the river, that weekend me and my mates also followed in the footsteps of the pioneers, joining hundreds of other swimmers in the 14k Bridge to Bridge swim from Henley to Marlow…

Ready for the off at Henley Bridge to Bridge. Photo credit Dan Bullock
Swimming champions ready for the off at Henley Bridge to Bridge. Photo credit Dan Bullock

Who knew Thames swimming could be so beautiful?  Well probably Caitlin Davies…Thank you for inspiring us Caitlin* and hooray for the Women Champion Swimmers of the world: past, present and future!

Celebrating
Celebrating an epic 14k bridge to bridge take down with swimming champions Fiona Bettles and Patricia Legg

 

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!

*Annabel Lavers finished kicked off the weekend completing her solo swim on 7th August.

*Davies’ next book is a novel about a Lady Champion Swimmer of the world – we can’t wait!

[1] Davies, Caitlin. Downstream. A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames, page 197

[2] Davies, Caitlin. Downstream, page 191

[3] Davies, Caitlin, Downstream,

[4] Davies, Catilin. Downstream , page 280

Flying to France the Hard Way: A Lotus Rises meets Artist- Adventurer Sam Mould

Fly to France is a six person Channel swimming relay team, taking on the world record breaking challenge of swimming Butterfly across the English Channel.

Sam with her butterfly boys
Sam with her butterfly boys: Boris Mavra, Kevin Blick, Rob Ouldcott, Sam Mould, Robert Fisher and Mark Johansen

A Lotus Rises spoke to artist-adventurer Sam Mould to find out how and why!

Why are you doing this?

Well, why not. I wonder that the answer to this question begins with a curiosity about our boundaries and trying every day to do something that we thought ourselves incapable of.

Sam Mould Flying along the River Thames
Sam Mould Flying along the River Thames

I only just started open water swimming in April 2014 [ Sam undertook the challenge of completing 365 days of open water swimming] and in starting that project, and now having completed it, I remembered amongst other things the childish pleasure of swimming and began to wonder where else I could swim and could I begin to use swimming not only to keep my body and mind healthy but to promote that for other people too.

Sam Mould's 365th openwater swim in 365 days
Sam Mould’s 365th openwater swim in 365 days

 

We understand you couldn’t swim butterfly until a few months ago. How did you learn. Is there a different technique for swimming butterfly over long distances?

Learning butterfly has been an undulating path. About six months ago, just after new year I went to a swimming pool to try and swim butterfly. The reason that I did this was that I knew that there was talk of a fly relay to france and I wondered if I could actually do the stroke at all. I’d been inspired by my now team mates who were happily swimming a mile or so regularly by this time.

The first effort was a total disaster in that I couldn’t manage 25m without practically drowning. That day I spent an hour and a half at London fields, pounding myself up and down the lanes and occasionally ringing my lungs out. I definitely learnt this stroke as a child; but didn’t ever swim it, not like crawl or backstroke.

"Why Crawl When You Can Fly?" Well indeed, that is the question...
“Why Crawl When You Can Fly?” Well indeed, that is the question…

Following this effort which left my abdominal muscles crying out in pain and arms to heavy to lift for several days, I started with my poor technique on swimming slightly longer distances of 50m not stopping.

I spoke to Kevin Blick; organiser and Butterfly chief, who invited me to swim fly with him which I did. At the end of the session he asked one question, and bearing in mind at this time I could swim less than 100m fly without stopping. He said ‘can you swim for an hour?’ This was his only question and I didn’t hesitate in saying yes, even though I couldn’t at that time.

Original inspiration from Sam Mould: "You are only one decision away from a totally different life"
Original inspiration from Sam Mould: “You are only one decision away from a totally different life”

To prove that I was serious I went on a butterfly swimming course, a one day series of pointers and technique. Then I went away for two months and practiced nothing but undulating exercises and occasional arm drills. I learnt through persistence and whilst I recognise that my technique is not perfect I focus on relaxed gliding in the water and relaxed arm for recovery for the long distance aspect.

Here’s a clip of Sam in the water, taken by fellow flyer Robert Fisher: A 3km training swim of grace, power and commitment in the pouring rain on a Sunday morning. AMAZING!

 

How does a Channel Relay work?

There is a team of six. We have a swim order that has to be kept the same for the duration of the swim. We swim for one hour, as far as that takes you and then wait for five hours until our turn comes around again. The stroke has a legality that must be adhered to if we want to succeed in setting  world record. That is synchronised and bilateral movement. Elbows and wrists clear the water for each stroke.

How tough is the training. What are the highs and what have been the lows?

The training has been both physically and mentally challenging. Bonding as a team has been the strongest positive, just being around people whose attitude is one of ‘can do’ has an effect on every dynamic of your life, and whatever the out come of our attempt I am very lucky to be in that team of people as they have mentored me through the process of preparation.

The Fly to France Team training at Dover
The Fly to France Team training at Dover

Lows have been the drive to Dover, on occasions in weather that was so bad we could barely see the road ahead. Getting into the sea when the waves are lumpy, the rain is pouring and the wind up to boot is super scary, especially at Dover beach which pounds the pebbles to the floor on entry causing a hissing sound under water.

I think getting over the boundaries of swimming in these conditions has been super challenging, but on the plus side, you finish those swims all the stronger for the experience. I’m not that comfortable with not being able to put my feet down or see the land or in fact jellyfish infested waters or swimming at night for example, but all of these things I hope will melt into oblivion when the time comes.

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The qualifier was another tough one. You have to swim for 2hours in sub-16 degrees C. We started to prepare for this by swimming  a mile; then an hour; then an hour and a half. We did this qualifier at the start of May together, as almost a full team. I haven’t ever swum 2hours of any stroke my entire life and felt completely elated to have completed this, as butterfly with my team mates. We jumped out to get breakfast: tea and cake, a staple diet at the Serpentine and it was in fact all that kept me going, the thought of food.

When is the big swim?

Our tide starts on the 8th August and is a weeks window. You can track the Fly to France Teams progress on Twitter and Facebook.

Sam is raising money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. You can donate here.

Sam’s Swimming Hat Design for the Record Breaking Swim

You’ve swum all over the world, but where is your favourite swim spot?

My favourite swim spot; gosh, that’s a tricky one –  I’ve swum in some very beautiful locations; Whale Bay sea swimming in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka in New Zealand, then the time of day or the conditions affect the experience; a midnight swim in Ullswater in the winter or an early morning swim at Windermere have their allure, river swimming in gorges in Torridon region, or scottish sea lochs in the heat of the day after a long hike or a swim in the Cairngorms in the highest loch in the UK or teaching my God-daughter to swim outdoors in a Llyn in Wales these all have their appeal and are full or special memories.

Sam Mould: Natural spirit
Sam Mould enjoying the beaches of NZ

I am definitely a fan of fresh water swimming.

The Serpentine in London in the winter months really is a little bit of wild and sanity in the city, and I am always grateful to have swum there in the before work or getting to the studio. I say this partly because I have spent so much time there and partly because of the community of friends that I swim with there, therefore it is potentially my favourite. In fact sharing the swims with family and friend adds to the liking of a place and the swim.

Sam and Swimming Friends
Sam and Swimming Friends

What is your favourite swimming cossy and why?

Favourite swim togs are my funkita sports bikini. Why? Because it feels fantastic to don a bikini that is practical, that I can move around freely in and essentially feels like my own skin.

Funkita Fly
Funkita Fly

Thank you Sam Mould! We wish you and all the Fly to France team a wonderful swim!

Sam is raising money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. You can donate here. You can also follow Sam on twitter and enjoy her many different projects via these blogs:

Sam Mould PaintingThe Bothy Project ; Intrepid Cycling; and She Who Dares Swims

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

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

How a love of openwater and freediving led to a new career. A Lotus Rises meets SwimQuest’s Alice Todd.

Open water can lead to all kinds of adventures. Alice Todd is an open water swimmer, free diver and triathlete. In 2014, she took the brave decision to follow her passion for open water and left her job in media to co-run SwimQuest Holidays with John Coningham-Rolls.

A Lotus Rises spoke to Alice about her love of open water, career change and the hardships of making a living by swimming all over the world…

group-on-beach-with-al-LR-300x225
Alice Todd enjoying her new career

When did you start open water swimming and why?

I started open water swimming as a child, when we went on family holidays to Whitby. There are loads of photos of my sister and I splashing about in the North Sea, on what look like pretty chilly days. We had a blow up dingy, which we loved, and we used to take it in turns to drag each other around in it – one of us swimming, pulling the rope, the other sitting in the boat ordering the other one about: left, right, faster, faster … I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more than my poor sister did! I’ve always been drawn to water though – looking at it, painting it, and swimming in it, whether it be pool, river, lake or sea. I think the sea is still my favourite.

What do you enjoy most about open water?

I think it’s still the childlike, carefree adventure I love most about open water and the outdoor swimming community; splashing around, feeling free, enjoying beautiful spaces – and having fun with other people. In this sense, I started swimming in open water because it was great fun, and made me feel good. I’m determined never to lose that feeling even now open water swimming is my job.

How did you get into freediving – Is it dangerous, where did you learn?

Like all sports, freediving can be dangerous if you do it irresponsibly, or without proper training or knowledge. That being said, anyone who has held his or her breath underwater has technically been freediving. I used to do that all the time, diving down to look at coral on holiday, enjoying the way it felt to tumble and roll underwater and feel completely weightless, but I didn’t realize it was a ‘sport’, until a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until a friend bought me a freediving course for my birthday, that I became a little obsessive about how far some people could push themselves without the bubbles. The current depth record for dynamic apnea with fins (basically swimming down a line using fins – as deep as you can go, and back of course) is 288m. 288m! That’s further than swimming from the public viewing gallery at the Shard (244m, incidentally) and back, on one breath of air. This record is currently held by Goran Čolak from Croatia. I’m still just a novice on the scale of things, but its helpful to be able to get beautiful GoPro footage of our guests underwater – and it’s nice for people to be able to take home photos of themselves floating in the blue.

Alice in Waterland: Freediving
Alice in Waterland: Freediving

If you’re keen to find out more, I would recommend starting with an AIDA International course. This will give you a good grounding and knowledge about the risks and safety procedures. The course I completed was run by a real-life merman – Adam Drazga [see www.bluewater-freediving.co.uk]. A challenging but fascinating introduction – highly recommended for anyone seriously interested. I then joined a really friendly club in Victoria called Apnea Revolution, who train biweekly in a pool.

 What do you find most challenging about open water?

If I’m totally honest it’s the loneliness on the longer swims. It makes me realize how bad I am at being in my own company! When you swim for a long period of time, it’s just you and the water, and if you’re not careful your head can visit some scary places, especially when you’re cold. That’s the biggest challenge for me – learning how to deal with that – and I think it’s very personal.

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Swimming together!

Many people talk about making changes to their careers, but it can be daunting. What gave you the confidence to make the move to SwimQuest and do you have any advice for other people contemplating a career change?

It is so daunting. I actually enjoyed many aspects of my job in the media, and I worked with some incredibly impressive people, which made it an even bigger decision, however I did reach a sort of ‘now or never’ moment. I was confident in my own abilities, I didn’t have a mortgage, or kids, and always knew I wanted to work for myself in the long run. I bumped into John at The London Triathlon in 2013, and really liked the look of what he was starting. I knew I had the skills to help him build what was then Coningham-Rolls Swimming Holidays into a bigger brand, and I was excited about the concept and the idea. I decided to take the plunge (I know, I’m sorry).

My advice to anyone considering a similar career change would be to do it, but to make sure that you have the skills you need to bring in money independently of the business start up. Freelancing has been fantastic, but you need to be prepared to sell your skills, and live hand-to-mouth for a while.

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In her element

How has your life changed since making the move – What’s a typical work day for you nowadays? Is running SwimQuest all about drinking cocktails by the beach and swimming in warm turquoise waters or is there other stuff involved?

I live a completely different life now. I have the freedom to work my own hours, from wherever I like, which is amazing. The more I see the business grow, the more I want to work. Some days I will work longer hours, some days not. I do end up working in some form or another most weekends too, but the freedom of not having to sit glued to a desk from Monday – Friday is invaluable for me.

The other major difference is the breadth of work. As we are such a small team, I get involved in pretty much everything at the moment – which is great fun. Marketing, accounts, web design, print design, merchandise, planning, strategy, promotions, partnerships, bookings, SEO, and of course swim guiding!

The swim guiding is brilliant as you meet so many fascinating people. This week I feel particularly lucky – I am spending the week with our guest coach, Olympic Medallist Cassandra Patten, who is incredibly inspirational, an amazing role model for young women and has everyone hanging on her every word when she’s giving advice on stroke technique. Occasionally we do get to drink cocktails by the beach, yes, and I have to admit there is quite a lot of swimming in warm turquoise waters!

You’ve swum all over the world. Where’s your favourite swim spot?

One of our SwimQuest locations is a tiny little island called Mathraki, just off Corfu. The water is really, really sapphire-blue – and there’s a little pile of rocks I swim out to in the mornings, teeming with tiny little velvet-black darting fish. It looks like someone has cut tiny little black holes in the water – and they shift and dance as you swim through them. That’s probably my favourite – it really is idyllic. If you don’t believe me – watch this!  Having said that, I still have a soft spot for the Norfolk Broads. Not many people think you can swim in them, but they are some of England’s cleanest waters. We run a Swim & Sail weekend there in September, on a gigantic Wherry Yacht – it’s very surreal, there’s even a piano on board …

And finally, what’s your favourite swimming cossy and why?

The brighter the better. I have a luminous orange one with a high leg that is my current fave, but I’m open to brighter suggestions.

Thank you 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 to follow via our BlogFacebookTwitter and please don’t hesitate to get in touch at alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

How far would you swim for a beer?

1.5km apparently…

At A Lotus Rises, we’re not afraid to put ourselves on the frontline to answer the very toughest questions in the world of open water swimming.

The Henley Club to Pub is 1.5k swim from Henley Rowing Club to the Angel on The Bridge pub. For the first 400m swimmers head upstream, then turn right around two buoys, taking them across to the other side of a little island and then downstream to the pub.

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It’s a swim that has everything: Personal challenge, sustenance and kitchen utensils…

At the finish swimmers are rewarded with a bottle of commemorative ‘Two Bells’ beer, brewed especially for the event. The swimming medals are designed as bottle openers and you can pick up a Club to Pub coaster too – a stylish addition to any home décor.

The rewards of the Henley Club to Pub!
The rewards of the Henley Club to Pub!
Victoria Pendleton's favourite swimmer Helen Jenkins
Super swimming lotus Helen Dickins celebrates with a  well earned bottle of Two Bells!

There’s also a BBQ and DJ and you get to walk back to the rowing club in your swimming cossy whilst swilling beer. Standard procedure for a Saturday night out in Henley I am sure.

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Enjoying a saturday night out in Henley

A real mix of swimmers took part – I met two young women for whom this was their first open water swim – and in skins – respect!

The race briefing was clear and also gave a helpful nudge for us all to consider the etiquette of a swim race start. I was particularly impressed with mine – having bumped into my mate Helen who I haven’t seen for 12 months, we managed to tread water and hug at the start line: Pretty sure that’s in chapter 42 of the advanced openwater swimming skills manual.

Helen swimming the Thames!
Helen swimming the Thames!

This swim is great fun and definitely worth repeating, only next time with  a greater emphasis on dancing at the finish.

Constructive feedback for the event organisers? The burger buns were a bit crumbly and probably need to be lightly toasted or replaced with a firmer alternative… You’re welcome.

Tom and Terry evaluating the Club to Pub burgers
Tom and Terry evaluating the Club to Pub burgers

Big thanks to Tom and Terry from Sussex Aardvarcks for inviting me to join their team!

Once more, 芙蓉出水 (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a Lotus Rises and this time we all won a beer, bottle opener and a coaster!

TEAM! Serious and focused on the objective ahead
TEAM! Serious and focused on the objective ahead

 

 

The Three Lakes Challenge: Loch, Lake, Llyn by Helen Liddle

A great guest blog from Helen Liddle about being part of the first team to attempt and complete the “3 Peaks of British Swimming.”

On 3rd and 4th July a team of 5 took on the ‘3 Peaks of British Swimming’. The aim was to swim the 3 longest lakes in Scotland, England and Wales in a continuous relay format in under 48 hours including travel times, wearing standard swim suit, hat and goggles. Jason Betley came up with the idea as he wanted to do something that had not been done before. The rest of us all keen for a challenge thought it would be a great thing to do.

The initial seed was sewn nearly two years ago but we only started planning at the beginning of this year. The challenge was kept a secret until a week before. The swimmers, in swim order, Helen Gibbs, Jason Betley, Debbi Taylor, Helen Liddle and Sam Plum. We were supported by Sam’s husband, Roger and Levi the dog. Tanja Slater was our Observer who kept a watchful eye over us. Tanja will submit a report to WOWSA to have the swim recognised.

Team!

Lakes in swim order.

Loch Awe: The longest freshwater loch in Scotland, measuring 41 kilometres (25 mi) from end to end with an average width of 1-kilometre (0.62 mi). We started the challenge at 5.43am in thick fog but the water was silky smooth and like a mirror. As the fog slowly lifted and the sun came out, the loch, in all its glory appeared before us for the first time. It was breathtakingly beautiful, a truly surreal experience which exceeded all expectations. Later the wind got up and it became a little choppy. Loch Awe is a hidden gem with no boat traffic and so completely idyllic. A very special place indeed and we all enjoyed our swims immensely. We finished at 18.07pm total time 11 hours 47 mins. Water temps from 14.1c – 19.4c, Air temps from 14.8c – 26c.

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Debbie motoring along windy

We then jumped back on the bus and headed to Wales. An opportunity to try, to catch some sleep. When we arrived the sun had come out and it had turned into a lovely day albeit a bit windy!

Llyn Tegid or Lake Bala as its better known: It is 4 miles (6.4 km) long by 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. Although the shortest lake by far it was the hardest swim as the wind had got up making it really choppy and by this time we were all very tired. Total swim time 1 hour 43 mins. Water temp 15.8-19.98c Air temp 18.8-22.0c.

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Loch Awe in all its glory
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Jason finishing the first leg

After grabbing a bite to eat we headed, overnight, to Cumbria. We drove through a storm and arrived at Fell Foot in the early hours of the morning. Sharing a mini-bus with no air-con, and with 7 people, 1 dog and wet damp kit does not make for a happy sleeping!!. So at 5am, after a sleepless night we emerged from the bus to head down to the shore to meet our boat.

Lake Windermere: 16.9 kilometres (10.5 mi) The lake varies in width up to a maximum of 1.49 kilometres (0.93 mi), and covers an area of 14.73 square kilometres. It was raining when we started but the lake was, as Loch Awe, like a mirror. After the first swim the rain stopped and although warm, it was overcast, the sun never made an appearance. Windermere, although more commercialised, holds memories for all of us, so again will always be a special place. Total Swim time 5 hours 53mins water temp 17.6-20.3c Air temp 16.1-21.5c.

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Job done! Happy Team!

Total swim miles: 39.5 miles

Total driving miles: 396 miles

Total Swim time: 18 hours and 43 mins

Total challenge time: 36 hours 23 Mins

This is just a short summary of what was, a truly amazing weekend and we are all very pleased and proud to be the first team ever to complete this challenge.

We really hope that other swimmers will take on the challenge and enjoy it as much as we did. If anybody wants any more information please feel free to contact me hj1704@gmail.com I’m hoping to set up a web page shortly.

Helen Liddle

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

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

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

First In Your Own Category

The clocks have sprung forward and a summer of sporting adventure awaits… A few weeks ago at swim training, I was chatting to two wonderful women who are both undertaking exciting personal challenges (on land and in water) in the next few months. I don’t think either of them fully appreciated this, but they are embarking on amazing challenges. One is simply ‘Going for a run’ and the other, ‘A bit of a swim’. I found it totally inspiring. And yet somehow, we managed to navigate our conversation into that classic realm of never being quite ‘good enough’. Thankfully we also had the self awareness to catch ourselves and laugh at our ability to get swept up in the narratives of others and ‘do down’ our own achievements:

“I will probably come last…”, ” My friend has been doing X hours of training. I haven’t even started yet…”, “I only came in X place in that ultra marathon…” “I should have been faster in that triathlon…”, “everyone is going to be thinking ‘why are you here?'” Because whoever the audience is you think you are performing to, completing ultra marathons, triathlons and wonderful swims whilst juggling the challenges of everyday life, is not enough.

I was grateful for the self-check of my peers in that conversation. We were falling into the trap of the kind of helpful discourse that enables you to single handedly ignore any sense of enjoyment and pride in your training journey and completely overlook the awesomeness and reward of the objectives you have achieved.

It’s sometimes worth remembering that even trail running and ski-mountaineering phenomenon Kilian Jornet doesn’t always come first in his races. And, as inconceivable as it may seem, Beyonce told me that back in 2013 she came third (behind Kelly and Michelle), in a Destiny’s Child egg and spoon race. Tough times, but she bounced back.

Human beings love to compare: who is fastest, strongest, furthest, toughest etc? And of course if none of those superlatives apply to you, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Fortunately there’s always the opportunity to claim a ‘first’ in order to give an achievement real meaning.

‘Everyone climbs Everest nowadays’, but if you’re the first person called Colin from Paraguay to successfully ride a unicycle to the summit and back (without supplemental oxygen), then in some circles that achievement may just be credible.

I am pretty confident Colin would be setting a world record ‘first’, however I also sense that within this cunning plan, there may be a level of unnecessary exertion. Why? Well, although Colin is free to fulfill himself with whatever unicycle challenge he feels necessary, I hope he will also realise that even without the unicycle, he is already first in his own category.

The race of life
Tortoise and Hare Face Off, or is it?

How do I know this?

I recently undertook a scientific review of my sporting performances since birth, and the level of consistency is incredible; Second to none in fact. And I am confident that if Colin, or anyone else for that matter, undertakes a similar review of their own performance, the result will be the same.

For example, at first glance the official results of the 2013 Traversee de la Ramaz 7.5km cross-country ski race indicate I was second to last. However, I reviewed the performance thoroughly with my adjudication panel, and it turns out I actually came first in my own category: The first and only girl to cross the finish line from South East London with about 4 hours cross country skiing experience in her life, who loves avocado and who had been given unwaxed skis to ‘race’ on.

Sadly there are no photographic records of the epic 7.5k TraversePre Epic Race Training. Learning to skate with the wonderful Tania Noakes and the added bonus of waxed skis.
Sadly there are no photographic records of my literraly ground breaking performance in the 7.5k Traversee de la Ramaz  However here is a pic of me learning to skate for the first time with the wonderful Tania Noakes. As you can see I am not enjoying myself. Not enjoying myself at all…

Unlike normal skis, cross country skis have to be waxed before each use, otherwise, as I can testify, they get stuck and at best it’s like skating across sand paper, in what turned out to be pretty hilly terrain: I was (unintentionally) riding a unicycle up Everest. As Tania said before the start, “It’s not going to be easy, but you’re here now, so you might as well get on with it.” Suffice to say I put in a performance the likes of which I am confident the cross-country skiing community is unlikely to see again. Somehow I actually managed to finish.

Of course it wasn’t the performance I had hoped for, but I embraced the situation and was first in my own category and I was delighted.

This weekend I enjoyed the handicap races at the Serpentine and Tooting Bec, as well as a cheeky training session at Charlton Lido. Did I come first in any of the races? No. Did that matter? No. Was I training in the slow lane? Yes. Was I a bit p*ssed off that once again I found myself back at not quite square one with training? Yes. Overall did that really matter? No. Did I have wonderful conversations about the relationship of humans to water, film festivals, social change, bravado and winter swimming, the power of dogs and the importance of saunas for the human spirit? And was the water delicious? Yes.

It was all lovely and a big thank you to my unknowingly inspiring peers!

But back to those all important challenges… I am still hedging my bets over plans for the summer. There’s a fair few things pencilled in, but they all come with the asterix *subject to injury. Fingers crossed.

Happily, whatever happens, I, like everyone else, will be first in my own category.

The starting line up for the first heat of a Saturday Morning  Serpentine Race. No-one has started swimming, but already everyone is first in their own category.
The starting line up for the first heat of a Saturday Morning Serpentine Race. No-one has started swimming, but already everyone is first in their own category.

 

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

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

 

 

Overcoming the Fear of Judgment: Authenticity and #ThisGirlCan

Sport England launched its TV ad campaign for ‘This Girl Can‘ last night, all aimed at increasing women’s participation in sport and empowering us to embrace exercise.

It’s a wonderfully inspiring film and struck a particular chord with me, not just because the advert features open water swimming and a woman kicking arse running up a hill to a Missy Elliott soundtrack, but above all, because of its authenticity.

A lot of people talk about the importance of “being yourself”, but knowing what that is can be difficult – sometimes we get lost or we become hidden; and the ‘being’ bit isn’t always straightforward either.

Sport is often the place where all of that comes to the fore.

Olivia Parker’s article in the Telegraph describes how Sport England’s research found that “2 million fewer women are regularly participating in sport or exercise than men, despite 75 per cent of women aged 14 to 40 saying they’d like to do more.” They also identified that ‘fear of judgment’ was the biggest barrier preventing women from doing exercise. Other research has also found that 1/3 of young girls think that exercise is socially unacceptable . Something which I have written about previously on the blog.

Each section of the This Girl Can film evokes images from my own sporting life past and present, like the endorphin rush, agility and team work of school netball. It also allows me to reflect on some of the battles that have choreographed those experiences. For example, hiding in my living room in 1997 doing a Jet out of the Gladiators fitness video because I was too self conscious about the weight I’d put on to exercise in public (note it is a fantastic video and was, for me, a great place to start getting fit again).

Although I have  been extremely sporty at different points in my life, my biggest moments of doubt are when I have had a break (sometimes that’s meant a ‘rest’ lasting a few years) and make a return to exercise – That I love exercise and the outdoors would come as a massive shock to many people who knew me in my twenties.

Who knew swimming could be so much fun ?!
Who knew swimming could be so much fun ?!

I have found that it is at the point of making a return to activity that my fear of judgment is at its height, and when, the little voice in my head is doubt’s strongest advocate: “How could you have let yourself go like this?” And then, having mustered the courage to make that first step and head to my local leisure centre, doing the walk from the changing room to the pool thinking, “You don’t belong here.”

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign
Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Thankfully I got in the water – there comes a point where that flicker of intent becomes a fire of commitment; well that, and the realisation that no matter how out of place you feel in your head, it would be even more weird if you headed back into the changing room – and so I began an amazing journey into open water swimming, well-being and an array of adventures on land, sea and air.

I am so excited to see swimming and open water swimming feature so prominently in the This Girl Can campaign. When we exercise, we are exposed in a different light (and in the case of swimming, we really do bare our physical selves), but where once just the thought of putting my cossy or trainers on induced questioning apprehension, they now open a door to liberation, a lot of fun, health and friendship.

Swimming with the NWSSSG all women elite commando squad: Photo: Gill Williams
Swimming in the Isle of Skye with the NWSSSG all women elite commando squad, part of the Outdoor Swimming Society’s Adventure swim series: Photo: Gill Williams

It is those friendships that continue to inspire me to keep on my path and embrace well being.

Of course I still have doubts and that little voice hasn’t completely gone away, but then one day you discover that the girl who hid in her living room doing the Jet out of the Gladiators fitness video, is now happily pictured in the Telegraph emerging from the Serpentine in a bikini on Christmas day, and you realise anything’s possible.

Here’s to embracing authenticity. #ThisGirlCan.

"Fu 荣出水“ Out of the Water a Lotus Rises: The Serpentine Peter Pan Cup Christmas Day 2014 as featured in the Telegraph online and other press (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA)
“芙蓉出水“ Out of the Water a Lotus Rises: The Serpentine Peter Pan Cup Christmas Day 2014 as featured in the Telegraph online and other press (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA) #thisgirlcan

Related Posts and a Thank You

See also ‘How to feel good [nearly] naked’  about how one of the things I love most about open water swimming is that for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant – I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume; and celebrating women in sport in Finding Our Personal Best. Team Mel C vs Team Pendleton: The Human Race Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon.

And last but definitely not least,  a big thank you to Jo and Pat with whom I was able to explore the link between authenticity, joy and happiness on their yoga retreat at new year.

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

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