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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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!