These Girls Can…Swim With Seals!

Jane Hardy  set up an open water swimming initiative to introduce twelve women to open water swimming, culminating in a fantastic sea swim with seals.

“Open water swimming is not a traditional mainstream sport, so the girls didn’t have a history of failure which often stops young women taking part in activities.

Sometimes young women have poor body image, low self esteem and bad experiences from PE at a younger age, so they simply give up on the idea of participating in sport and that is desperately sad.

This is new and exciting (swimming with wild atlantic grey seals has a wow factor, doesn’t it?); Perfect for #thisgirlcan

Here’s the inspiring film about the project; A Lotus Rises spoke to Hardy to find out more…

Why did you set up this initiative?

I’m a community Sports Officer for ActiveNorthumberland and my job is to break down barriers to participation in sport and to encourage 14-25 year old females who are inactive to take part in exercise to develop healther lifestyles, mental wellbeing etc.

Was it easy to organise? How did you get support and funding?

It wasn’t easy to organise. It took hours of planning behind the scenes – in particular considering every risk or hazard and making the correct decisions to maximise the girls safety. As far as I’m aware, I’m the first to organise such a programme.

I am a level 2 British Triathlon Coach qualified to coach in open water. I’m also a volunteer Coastguard so I have excellent local knowledge which I could incorporate into my planning and share with the participants.

I’ve also completed the RLSS National Open Water Safety Management Programme Supported by my employer and funded by Sportivate I was able to deliver the programme.

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These Girls Can! Credit Jane Hardy

How does the project relate to #ThisGirlCan and what does that mean to you?

I’m passionate about open water swimming so to have the opportunity to share this with 12 young women was like all my birthdays came at once.

Open water swimming is not a traditional mainstream sport so the girls didn’t have a history of failure which often stops young women taking part in activities.

Sometimes young women have poor body image, low self esteem and bad experiences from PE at a younger age so they simply give up on the idea of participating in sport and that is desperately sad.

This is new and exciting (swimming with wild atlantic grey seals has a wow factor, doesn’t it?); Perfect for #thisgirlcan

These Girls Can. Credit Jane Hardy

These Girls Can. Credit Jane Hardy

One of the seals. Credit Jane Hardy

One of the seals. Credit Jane Hardy

Please tell us about the participants? What were their motivations for starting in open water and what did they gain from the experience?

The participants varied in age from 14-25 and were all female. Most were taking to the open water for the first time. Some were at school, some had just left and were waiting to go onto further education and some were working.

They took part for a variety of reasons : To conquer the fear of the unknown (what’s lurking beneath the surface), to get fit, to make new friends, to gain confidence, to try something different, to progress from pool swimming….the list was endless.

These Girls Can Swim With Seals

These Girls Can Swim With Seals

How did the seals react to a whole load of excited swimmers in their neighbourhood?

The seals on the Farne Islands are unique in that historically dive boats visit the islands daily all year round. They are used to divers and so we weren’t unusual or a threat.  Having the paticipants in the water was no different from any other day. Seals are naturally curious and inquisitive so they swam around the girls confidently – we were in their waters and they are much better swimmers than we are so they simply came as close as they wanted as and when they wanted.

I’m a volunteer marine mammal medic for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue. I am trained to assist with marine mammal strandings (including seals) and I was able to educate the girls about seal behaviour and ensure there was mutual respect between human and seal. We didn’t climb onto the islands where the seals were resting. We didn’t approach them. We didn’t swim in the mating season or the calving season so we ensured minimal disturbance to their natural behaviour.

 

These Girls Can Swim With Seals - And so can you!

These Girls Can Swim With Seals – And so can you!

What advice do you have for any women thinking about getting into open water?

I would encourage anybody interested to look for a local social open water swimming group.

If they post on the Outdoor swimming Society and share there location, then there is always a friendly swimmer willing to share the love of the open water. There are usually tri clubs who offer open water swimming coaching too.

I would advise to absolutely never swim alone. Find someone who can read the tides and who knows the local waters. The waters in the UK are cold so I would suggest hiring a wetsuit intially too.

These Girls Can Swim with Seals

Will you be running other courses like this? If people want to create their own initiatives around the UK, where is the best place to start?

Given the success of this initial programme I would love to be able to deliver again. Ideally not exclusively to 14-25 year olds and inclusive of men too. I’m not sure about the best place to start – insurance will be an issue and I obviously had that covered through my employer.

Social meets where folk swim at their own risk are possibly best which is why I suggested the outdoor swimming society.

The thing I liked best about the programme is the fact that it was not for profit.

It would be sad to see the growth of folk charging for something which should be wild & free. 

Wild swimming, not expensive swimming, that’s my vision.

And finally, where’s your favourite swimming cossy and what is your favourite swim cake?

I love zoggs. I’m a bit busty and tall and they have cossies which suit my shape.

Favourite cake has to be lemon drizzle any day 🙂

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!

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

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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!