Friday night

Back in the 90’s Whigfield sang about “Saturday night” the song often blasted out, in my student halls, while it’s residents, often tipsy on Lambrini, acted out the moves, along the corridors. That was the 90’s, that was Saturday night…this was my Friday.

I made plans, early on, as to what to do that Friday night. I was pretty skint, given that my last pay day, was a distant memory and I’d had to pay for both Christmas and New Year. There were no wild parties, just lots of trips to visit my family, who reside in various parts of the country.

I already had a swim planned, at my hotel. I did think, that I would maybe meet up with a others involved with Swimathon, but as it transpired, they were staying in a different hotels.

My first consideration was food, but my budget was very limited! I decided to go for a walk, get my bearings, enjoy some time to myself, some fresh air and food for tea!

It was already growing dusk, but the weather was a considerable improvement, to home. For one, I could walk, without risking falling over and making an idiot of myself. Staying on your feet, is always good!

I really enjoyed my walk, taking in the sights and sounds of London. I sorted myself out with some food. I decided on a bit of picnic tea: salad, fruit, yogurt and other bits of nibbles. Having a fridge in my room, was certainly of an advantage!

Tea bought, i headed back to my hotel. After enjoying a bit of a picnic, in my room, was time to head to the pool.

The pool area was really lovely and relaxing. There was also a sauna, jacuzzi and steam room, which unfortunately out service. The pool, was at most, 15mtrs. More like a bath than a pool! This however, cost me the nominal fee of £3.50. Cheaper than what it costs, to swim at my local leisure centre, the day before.

The pool was, initially empty, I was joined, from time to time, by others. Once the were six of in the the pool, it was packed! I decided that as the pool was small, not to concentrate too much on distance, but rather use it as technique and tumble turn practice session.

I am aiming, to complete my 400m, as all freestyle and use tumble turns, in opposed to open turns. Tumble turns, are those used in competitive freetyle. They also help to improved your time. I am being realistic however, in recognising that with others in the lane, some of whom may be less experienced, than I, it may not always be safe.

Tumble turns, once learnt, are relatively easy to execute. They must, however be taught by an professional swimming teacher, because there is a risk of injury, if they are not carried, correctly. My swim coach, knows of a swimmer who burst both his Achilles tendons, while doing a tumble turn. Ouch!!!

Although I can now, complete a tumble turn, correctly, I still get water up my nose, which hurts! This leads to streaming eyes subequently, I can’t see where the hell I’m swimming.

The next hour, was spent practicing tumble turns, without getting water up my nose. It wasn’t always successful and i knew my sinus’s would play up, if I wasn’t careful, leading to me sounding like I had a heavy cold. This wouldn’t be a great outcome, come the following day, when I was being filmed

Overall though I was happy with my progress, I realised that if I consistently breathed out, through my nose, as I turned, it prevented water, from going where it shouldn’t!

I also decided, when the pool was empty, to practice butterfly. Butterfly, is an anti-social stroke! The pool, was empty of people, when I started. At the end, I think I had nearly emptied the pool of water and three people had joined me in the pool. Oops sorry!

Swim completed, it was time to head back upstairs to prepare for the following day….

View from my hotel, at night

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Scaling the wall..

I’ve wanted to write, a post for sometime, about living with a disability. Not just living, but living positively, but what I didn’t want to do, is juet talk about MY life with MY disabilty, because then it becomes inward looking and serves little purpose. I needed a base, a foundation and a means of making it relevant, to all.

I do have a disability, I use a walking stick and my asthma is deemed, also to be a disabilty. Asthma is not in itself, a disability, it is dependent on the severity and the impact on a person’s life. My asthma is severe, conseuquently, it does have a quite a significant impact on my life.

I am however, very lucky, today we have medications, and the knowledge, to allow asthma patients, like me, to live a near normal life.

My arthritis, along with my back injury, means that I experience both pain and jpint stiffness. Without regular excercise, particularly swimming, it gets much worse.

Swimming has been amazing for me, it’s changed my life. When I walked out of my physio appointment, I believed that I had been given a diagnosis, that would have a negative impact. What I could not know, at that time was that I had been given, what was to prove, to be a life changing piece of advice. Take up swimming!

We are each given a choice, disabled or not, as to how we choose to live out lives. As Carl Jung stated “It’s not what happened to me, It’s what I choose to become. For this we need resilence and persistence. To quote A.P.J Abdhul Kalhem

“When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realise that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives”

We each face obstacles on a daily basis, life gets in the way, we pick up injuries, the weather is cold, we’re ill. Some of these are temporary, others permanent and when they are permanent, to quote Elizabeth Edwards

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before”.

How you respond to challenges, the difficulties of getting started and keeping going, is down to each individual. Every person is different and so it stands to reason, that how we deal with the things that life throws at you, will vary.

To use an analogy if you are faced with a huge brick wall, how are you going to tackle it?

Some will choose tp climb over it, some will stand and stare are it, thinking that getting to the opposite side, is near impossible, before coming to the conclusion, I think I can do this and through their own strength and perseverance, will get there eventually. Others will knock a hole througb it some, may tunnel under it. There is no right way.

A small minority will look and go “Nah”…It’s too high, I can’t climb over, I can’t get round it, I don’t have the right tools, to break through it and the grounds too hard and cold, to dig under it. I give up! They walk away, having never really considered what they could achieve or how they could complete the task. They never learn, just what night be waiting for them, on the other side!.

I spent two years, staring at my wall. I wanted to learn to swim, but i didn’t know how to go about it. I was nervous, believed I was too old, terrified of putting my face in the water. All of these things, along with my health issues, were “my brick wall”.

I am so glad, I didn’t give up. I found a way to overcome these obstacles and in doing so, I found a form of exercise love. I also found new friends, my health too, benefited.

To have resilience and to be persistent often means stepping outside your comfort zone. To stop thinking of what you want to do, but believe you can’t do, to a mindset where you’re willing to try, through the use of your own resources. To stop seeing barriers as a way of preventing from you doing what you want to do, but rather seeing them as hurdles to get over, it’s about being determined. At times it requires more than that, it needs shear bloody mindedness.

I could go on, but I’m heading on the verge of waffling. I will conclude by saying, if you’re considering taking up swimming (or any other form of sport/excercise) before declaring “I can’t do this, I give up”, consider “what do I believe is stopping me?” “How do I face the challenges that lie ahead? How can I overcome them”.

Finally, be realistic…I will never run the Great North Run, climb Kilimanjaro, but I know in three months time I can (and I will) swim 1.5km, 2.5km and 400m over three days, I will complete my Swimathon Challenge.

The journey…

I arrived at Newcastle train station, at just before 11am…I remember looking up at the clock, that hangs from the roof, to check the time, to find myself suddenly and unexpectedly, overcome by emotion. Tears of joy and happiness, welled up. This was it, it was really happening. To me! It felt like an amazing dream, that I was soon going to wake up from!

I walked on the platform, with the aim of establishing where my train was leaving from. Newcastle train station, was absolutely freezing, it’s vast Victorian structure, akin to a giant wind tunnel.

I decided to find somewhere warm, to grab a coffee. My ticket was, much to my suprise, First Class. I would of been perfectly happy to travel in standard class! So I decided to head to the First Class lounge, which offered a santuary of warmth and coffee.

It was really lovely treat, to be able to sit in a comfy chair, make a few phone calls and drink a decent cup of coffee. The cup of coffee itself, threw me into confusion…I spent ages looking for those small plastic cartons of milk, that are synonymous with train station and other take-away coffees, only to discover the milk was in a jug, in the fridge.

The one thing, I quickly learnt I hqd to be wary of…no announcements in the lounge! So at 11.55 I stepped outside to await my train.

While stood on the platform I noticed this advertisement, for a book. Ot seemed apt.

Five minutes late, my train pulled into the station, I located my carraige and found myself, greeted on board, by lovely staff.

In First Class I found myself, in a strange world, I’m not really used to. At seat service and “complementary food and drink” when they checked my ticket I completely expected to be kicked out. I wondered if they’d let me take my macaroni cheese and red wine with me!

The journey itself was really enjoyable, for all I would of been perfectly happy to travel standard class, ot was lovely to have a big comfy chair to sit and relax in. My arthritis was very thankful too! I was also able to indulge in my favourite tipple too. Twice!

The scenes, outside the window, where beautiful too. For the first 30 minutes a winter wonderland, filled my vision. This then gave way to green fields, as the weather became “warmer” the further South we travelled.

Just before 4pm, we pulled into Kings Cross. The journey had been a very enjoyable one and I was very grateful to have been given the opportunity to travel first class.

The next challenge, came with finding my hotel. After checking my reservation, to clarify the name of my hotel “The Crowne Plaza Kings Cross” I headed off. It’s only a few minutes walk, Google Maps told me, less than half a mile. Before promptly giving me confusing insteuctions and sending me round in circles! The wonders of technology!

I located my hotel, checked in, given my room number “534”, headed upstairs, dumped my stuff and took a deep breath. I was here, in London, the journey was over and the next part of the adventure was about to begin!

Snow determined…

Last night the met office issued an amber warning, for snow. We haven’t had one of those for a while, this morning I woke to this!

Four inches of the stuff. Snow, in January is hardly unusual, but the North East of England hasn’t had a decent snow fall for a few years, now.

Today I was determined, I would going for a swim, but my street looked like this.

My car was going nowhere, except perhaps, spinning around in circles if I attenpted to drive it!

I didn’t take long to come the realisation, that if I was to have any chance of getting a decent swim in, it would be at my local pool, which is 10 minutes walk away. The gym, which I usually swim at, is 8 miles away. Twenty five minutes, in my car. As luck would have it, this morning, was one of the rare days, where it’s not closed for schools, clubs or other usage. This is why I’m a member of a gym and not the local leisure centre, lack of pool access!

So I set off, with temperature barely above freezing, I wrapped us as though I was going out with the intention of commiting a burglary! Like many asthmatics, cold air is a trigger, it makes my lungs grumpy, so I rock my scarfie!

It was all very pretty, as I wandered through the park.

By the time I arrived at the pool, I had a soggy bottom, in fact I had 2. My trouser bottoms. Wellies may of been a better plan! I hate soggy bottoms.

So I paid my £4.60 to swim. This is quite a bit of money, in these financially difficult times, three or our swims or taking the family and the costs soon mount up. Maybe this is one way, to increase the numbers swimming, reduce the cost.

Not many people had been brave enough (or should that read stupid) to venture out in snow, for a swim. The pool was relatively quite, however out of 16 people in the pool, only myself and 2 others, where able to swim using correct technique.

How many adult, have been denied the chance or who have been given limited access to learn to swim, properly. Some adults may believe, that they “don’t need to learn to swim properly”. How many adults are held back from swimming, by fears from childhood lessons?

Incorrect technique can lead to pain and discomfort, it also means that your swim is, inefficient and you simply don’t get out of your swim, what you could. In order to swim well, you need to swim streamlined!

The plus side of a quiet pool, was able to get into a lane. Although I really want to start training, I decided that I really need to concentrate first on getting my fitness and technique, back on track, following my recent 3 week hiatus from swimming. Thanks grumpy lungs!

In addition, I knew I would be having a master class, on Saturday, from the Olympians, Keri-Anne Payne and Duncan Goodhew, so I decided to wait, till after them as to allow me to get advice and tips on technique and training, which I can then combine with my exhisting plan!

My swim, this morning highlighted to me, how far I’ve come in just a year. A year ago, I still found myself, struggling a great deal, to master freestyle or front crawl, as it’s sometime known. It looks easy, but its a technical stroke to learn. It requires co-ordinating breathing, body rotation and correct body position along with correct position of both arm and legs!

A year ago, my go-to stroke was breaststroke. It is however, one of my weaker strokes on account of my back damage preventing me from fully executing the kick. Today, I swam 2000m, 80 lengths. Aside from a 200m IM, I swam 1750 metres freestyle. I swam only 50 metres breaststroke. I also swam 1500m in 1 hour and 4 minutes, with breaks. Twenty one months ago, my PB was 1 hour 8 minutes…without breaks. I’m really happy with this evidence of progress!

London calling…this is London calling

Firstly…I have three posts, sitting unfinished. I’m just getting back, to blogging regularly, I also need to get into the habit of finishing posts!

On Friday morning, it time to head to London for the Swimathon Ambassadors launch event. It was prove an amazing, whirlwind 36 hours. Thirty-six hours that where to prove more than “a little bit special”.

To write about it, in one post, would mean that the post would be the length of my discertation and also take an absolute age to complete!

Friday morning saw me awake at 5.30am…ridiculously early! There was no way, in my excited state, I was going to get back to sleep. I was worse than my 5 year old nephew, on Christmas morning!.

There was one slight issue to deal with…I say slight, it was actually one that caused me a level of stress that was disproportionate to the problem. My printer threw a hissy fit! For two hours, I tried repeatedly, to get the damn thing to work. It refused, I tried all the usual tricks…switching it, slapping it, like it was a 1970s TV, getting cross with it . To no avail!

Virgin East Coast website, offered no help as to whether or not I could just show, my ticket, on my phone. I placed a panicked message on FB, at a 11pm, asking if anyone could print my tickets. Then I remembered, I could print them off, at the local library.

At 9am I walked, skidded and tottered, carefully across to tbe library. Snow still laid 4 inches thick and it was where the sun, had melted it the previous day, ice had taken it’s place. Quite apart, from making a complete idiot of myself, by falling over, I didn’t want to fall over, break something, land myself in A and E and miss an opportunity of a lifetime (and several weeks training).

I spoke to a lovely lady, a rather panicked conversation along the lines of a garbled “I’m going to London today, I need these tickets, printed off, please can I do it here”. She responded, by advising me, that I would need library membership, to use the P.C. I don’t have library membership, but I did need those tickets printed off! Neither did I have time to sign up.

Thankfully, she waivered, this requirement ‘just this once”. Thirty pence ligher and 10 minutes later, the tickets were in my hand and I was on my home.

An hour later, I threw my backpack over my shoulder and headed out the door. In my bag was my new swimming costume, kindly provided by Zoggs, a partner with Swimathon. The postman arrived, only 10 minutes before I was due to leave. I love my new costume, it’s so bright and funky.

It was time to eading to Newcastle Central Station. This is where my journey really begun….

The Christmas present, that keeps on giving….

The details of the Swimathon Ambassador programe are slowly coming in, travel plans are being finalised and loose ends, tied. It’s very evident that it’s going to be an incredibly busy weekend and I’m grateful that they have provided me with a hotel, that has a pool and gym. This will allow me, to squeeze an hour or so of “me time”. This will also give me a great base, from which to consider my answers to the videod interview. I have the questions, I just need to sit down and formulate my replies. That’s a job for Friday evening.

Part of me wants to share, all the details, now. However, I’ve decided hold back and share them, as they happen. It’s going to be amazing, I’m incredibly excited and I want to remember, as much as a can and make the most of every minute. It’s an opportunity of a life time, an incredible gift, that has just got bigger, and better, from the time I got the first e mail, just before Christmas.

So what excactly is Swimathon? I’ve taken this from the Swimathon website, which I really encourage you to visit, by following this link.

“Swimathon, the world’s biggest fundraising swim, has been encouraging swimmers the length and breadth of the UK to swim a distance challenge since the very first event 31 years ago. Since then, Swimathon’s mission of uniting swimmers around challenges and fundraising has prompted more than half a million swimmers to take part at their local pool and raised more than £48 million for charitable causes.

A challenge for everyone. A swim for all – Enter Swimathon 2018 and join Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie to raise as much money as possible for two causes close to the nation’s hearts. Swimathon will be returning for 2018 and will take place from Friday, April 27 – Sunday, April 29. This is your swim – from 400m to 5k, there is a Swimathon challenge for you”

I’ve taken part, for the past two years and it is an fantastic event. Last year I swam 2.5km, the year before 1.5km (I also later swam, a “simply swim” 2.5km. This year, my plan was to swim 2.5km, but then my friend P, who I train with, decided she wanted to take part. This year they’ve introduced a new, shorter 400m challenge, this was great for P, as she felt unable, to complete 1.5km, so I signed up for the 400m, alongside the 2.5km.

Then I decided tbat as it’s my third swimathon and 3 years, since my first lesson, why not complete 3 challenges. So I’ve signed up for 1.5km as well.

The ambassador project, will give me many fantastic opportunities, but.on a personal level, I really hope to get the message, out there, that you’re never too old to learn to swim. It will also be a great opportunity to show to people, that life doesn’t have to have to come to a grinding halt, after the diagnosis of a long-term health problem or disability. Life does change after such a diagnosis, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up, spend your life sitting on the sofa or lead a sedimentary lifestyle. I certainly will never run a marathon or even 5km, even if I wanted to, but in swimming I have a sport, I can regular participate in and love.

Commitment…

Today, I was back at Aquafit. Aquafit is something I have a bit of love/”hate” relationship with.

One the one hand, I love it, becuase it enables me to enjoy a really good work out, supported by water. On the other hand I find it pretty hard going, spending forty five minutes, being told what to do, when what I would like to do is swim!

In addition, because the water is supporting me, physically I can do more,  I really enjoy pushing myself. This unfortunately, had led to me getting told off, by some participants, for kicking to hard, splashing to much or “wetting their hair”.  It’s hard to get tbe balance right.
Today, I noticed, there a few familiar faces missing. There’s a pretty grim viral infection, doing the rounds, which is decimating people. I started with on Christmas ay and three week later, I still have a residual cough. There were also a few new, unfamiliar faces. These might be people who have been a member of the gym, for a while, who have decided to give aquafit a try. Or they might be “New Year Resolutionsers”.

As Big Ben bongs it’s way into the New Year (other clocks are avaialable) New Year Resolutions are made. To get fitter and loose weigbt, are high among them. Buoyed up, by the enthusiasm, they head down to the gym to sign up. New Year, New me!

I first noticed this phenomena, last year. In January, the pool was heaving and the gym, busy. I overheard people discuss, how amazing they were because “they’d swam 20 lengths” and listened to  their plans to join “Weightwatchers”. By Febuary, the tide of new people slackened, by March there were few, of these once new faces, to be seen, either the pool or gym. The only evidence, of their former commitment to “go the gym, get fitter resolution” is that their 12 month contract still needs be honoured, necessitating the payment of x amount of money, to be talen from their bank account.

Committing to anything needs careful consideration. Doing more excercise, getting fitter, living a healthier lifestyle is hard work. It needs commitment of both heart and mind. Coming out of a swimming pool, when it’s -4c, outside isn’t funny. Even if you dried off and dressed! Getting up at 6am, to go swimming is hard work. Battling to swim, in a crowded pool, is frustrating experience.

I am pretty sure, many gyms, make a large proportion of their profits, from those people who never or rarely go. I’m guessing, many gyms, every New Year, run promotions…no joining fee, vouchers, catchy slogans, freebies, to entice people in.

Maybe though, what gyms should do is give people a trial period, offer support when that commitment starts to waiver, give advice and guidance when things get tough, maybe even offer things like a “buddy scheme”. If gyms are happy enough to get you to sign up for a year, should they not also they offer guidance and support, to help, encourage and support people to remain committed to their goals? In doing so, they will aid people people live healthier, fitter lives, could in the long run help wider society.