Swim Drills #alotusrises #PressforProgress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Alice Gartland 2018



LOTUS Exclusive: A Circumnavigation of the Rock With No Name…

Wild Swimming World first or Two friends, one dog, one island, one ocean and a picnic?… Out of the water…A Lotus Rises

At around 20.00 hrs yesterday evening,  Jess and her dog Otley made their way down to Westcombe beach for a dip, with me, Alice, official observer from the swim blog for women who love open water – A Lotus Rises.

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Jess on the rocks! Photo copyright: Alice Gartland

Some people may think this was just two friends and a dog going for an evening swim and picnic amongst the Monet like cliffs of the Devon coast, but no…

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Looking out to the Rock With No Name (it’s the little one that’s difficult to see that’s just in front to the big one)… Photo Copyright: Alice Gartland

Otley and the picnic were secured beach side, and we ventured out into the cool sea. Jess pirouetting on the sea covered rocks that she knows so well  (this is her local swimming pool).

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Ahead lay the Rock with no name, of which there are no official records of a circumnavigation… we estimated the swim to be about 10m in distance and best approached with a mixture of head up breast stroke and doggie paddle…

This breath taking footage captures this world first in wild swimming…

And this – doggie paddle to the finish…and diving off the island in celebration – Well done Jess – Epic swimming times!

Then we headed back to the beach for a crudette avec dip supper, and a petit vino, whilst wrapped up in warm jackets and woolly hats, before walking barefoot and muddy back home.

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Jess looking back to the beach in her OSS Dart 10k hat (rumour has it that Jess will be returning to the Dart in 2017… )

Continue reading “LOTUS Exclusive: A Circumnavigation of the Rock With No Name…”

Outdoor Swimming: Things I Wish I’d Known…

Many adventures start out as just a flicker of intent, mixed with a dash of terror of the unknown. Rather like standing at the water’s edge, you deliberate, hesitate, but eventually you leap, love it, and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

So, to avoid any further delay to your outdoor swimming adventures, we asked a range of swimmers turned open water addicts, what they wish they’d known before they started open water swimming…

“That no one cares what you look like or how you swim because everyone’s too busy enjoying themselves and eating cake; That the fear may never subside but the enjoyment, satisfaction and sense of achievement will only get greater; Always have a woollen hat in your bag; and always pack a cap, goggles and costume, as you never know when the opportunity for a swim might appear!” Manda Read.

Manda Read, Team Mermaids

“That swimming takes you to another place: both geographical (far flung places where you meet similar minded people and have a hoot, even if you don’t speak a common language) and also takes you to yourself (without sounding too hippy-ish!): giving you the time to think over stuff, grieve at times, get some space and find the strength to face up to challenges in life.” Clare McRobbie

Clare, (Right) and the Dive In Belles. Photo Credit Gail McClean


Clare and Charlotte leading the Dive in Belles at Tooting. Photo Credit Gail McClean

“I wish I’d known how much more alive and exciting I’d find swimming in just toggs. That you don’t have to choose between being a wetsuit or toggs swimmer – you can do both!” Vicky Raybould, who completed her first open water event in 2016.


“A fingertip’s worth of Johnson’s baby shampoo on each lens of your goggles. It’s ok to let it dry while you wait for your next swim. Then dunk your goggles in the water and shake off the drips before you put them back on. Never fails to stop them misting up!”, says Jackie Risman.

“I wish I had known that nobody cares what you look like in a swimsuit…and how much I would come to appreciate my health and what my body is capable of,” Barbara Brown

Photo Credit Barbara Brown

“That Jellyfish can’t get down high necked swimsuits” Anna Wardley

“The least glamorous sport in the world…but life changing and prestigious” Sal Minty Gravett

“ That you don’t have to be an elite swimmer to do it – in fact you don’t even have to be a good swimmer. That I had been doing it my whole life already, it’s just that I used to call it playing at the seaside…” Polly Downes

Photo Credit Polly Downes

“Almost anything can (and will) happen. And (almost) anything will be okay!”, Jaimie Monahan.

Photo credit Arik Thomalen

“To be honest I wish I’d sorted my technique out sooner.” Geraldine Treacher.

“How huge a part of my life it would become.”  Jody Jones

“What wonderful, inspiring and downright gorgeous people embrace and participate in this sport…I couldn’t imagine my life now without my swimmie friends and I’ve achieved things I wouldn’t have even dreamed were possible five years ago.” Annabel Lavers.

Annabel finishes her Channel Solo Photo Credit Annabel Lavers

“I use the strong ‘in the moment’ memories that outdoor swimming gives me, to give me confidence and courage to channel into other areas of my life,” Teresa Klesner

“That it’s OK to be a bit uncomfortable – it won’t kill you, it won’t even hurt you. And the joy of actually BEING in one’s own body – of experiencing it as a wonderful piece of equipment which could do so much I’d never imagined and which was so much more strong and capable and adaptable than I’d ever thought it could be.” Barbara Jennings

Barbara Jennings. Photo Credit Gail McClean

“You have no idea how capable you are, or how far you can go until you try. Just a little bit more each time. Plus making really solid friendships so quickly,” Debbie Taylor


Have you entered our SwimSelfie Competition? 

Win a years subscription to Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and a kit bag full of swim gear from Zoggs, and two tickets to the Women’s Adventure Expo.

A Lotus Rises is the swim blog for women who love open water and we’re very excited to be delivering our Guide to Open Water Swimming at WAExpo 2017, the annual flagship event of the Women’s Adventure Expo CIC. Never afraid to tackle the important issues, we’ve got together with Outdoor Swimmer Magazine and Zoggs to try and answer one of the toughest questions in open water swimming – What makes the best #SwimSelfie? and support you on your swim adventures, whatever they may be!

Submit your pics to @WAEXPO and @ALotus_Rises with the hashtag #swimselfie, for the chance to win a year’s subscription to Outdoor Swimmer Magazine, a Kit Bag full of swim gear from Zoggs (1 x swim cozzie from a choice of three (size 8-20), the excellent predator goggles, swim hat, ear plugs, and towel), and 2 tickets to WAExpo 2017 held in Bristol on 7th October to inspire you on your swim adventures. We’ve extended the deadline so that last entries are Monday 2nd October, with winner announced 3rd October.




Tough Girl Podcast #alotusrises

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

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


Continue reading “Tough Girl Podcast #alotusrises”

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.

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.

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.