One amazing day

So, we come to Saturday. The Swimathon Ambassadors launch event…it really was a once in a life time event.

After enjoying a substantial breakfast, I rarely have a cooked breakfast, but today was day, that called for such start to the day.

I headed to the vast catherdral like structure, that is St Pancras Station.

she features on the launch video, but she spoke of a nurse, who bought her patient oranges, with the aim of bringing the orange groves of Spain, to him.\nT

There I met with, my fellow ambassador, Cadi, and also Melanie Berry, who I am grateful to, for helping it all to happen.

For there, it was on to Stratford

We tried, to meet up with a fellow ambassador, Stephen, but somehow we missed other, with Stephen arriving sometime after us.

Then it was onto the London Aquatic Centre and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. When it came in to view, I found it utterly awe inspiring. This was, in 2012, the world stage. The place where the Olympics and Paralympics were held, where elite athletes, who had trained and worked so hard, for many years, to earn “the right to be there” had come together, each representing their own country, to compete in there chosen sport. It was truely was, ne of many amazing moments, that day.

Stepping inside, we were greeted, by someone representing Swimathon. This was it, this really was it!

We were shown to the room, we were to be using that day. There was tea, coffee, juice and water laid out, along with an array of sandwiches, crisps and fruit. We really were, looked after. Some ambassadors had already arrived, others came in after us. It was so fantastic, to meet my fellow ambassadors, each with their own, inspirational story. I was so nervous!.

We were soon joined by Duncan Goodhew, the 1980 Moscow Olympics Gold medalist, who is president of Swimathon, having supported the event for many years. He was quickly followed byKeri Anne Payne, the Olympic silver medalist and Double World Champion, along various people from the charity partners and other agencies working with and supprting Swimathon.

After spending time, meeting and chatting to various people, including Duncan Goodhew and Keri-Anne Payne. It felt very surreal and I was pent up with nerves and running on adrenlin. I kept bursting into uncontrollable fits of giggles.

We then began with a round of introductions. Duncan, gave a very inspiring speach, which I regret not recording. It was brilliant! Duncan alao brought along his gold medal and i couldn’t help, but wear it myself. It was suprisingly heavy!

Then we heard from a number of other people. Those supporting the project and also from McMillan. One thing many people do not realise, is that McMillian support anyone requiring palliative care, not just those living with cancer.

Moving on, it was time to head to the pool, a quick change, and I was good to go. This is when I noticed something very important missing, my medic alert bracelet, which never leaves my right wrist. I thought I’d lost it in London. It later transpired, much to my relief it was at home.

I headed to the side of the pool, attired in my gorgeous swimming costume, courtesy of Zoggs, dropping stuff as I went. I have no idea why I didn’t just use, my “Finding Nemo” pool bag, to carry it all in.

We were asked, if we needed googles. I couldn’t remember where I’d put mine, I was so flustered and neevous. I wasn’t even sure, if I needed to wear Zoggs ones, as they are a Swimathon supporter. It was to transpire, that they were more comfortable, than my present ones!

Swimming masterclass

This was delivered by Keri-Anne Payne, Olymic silver medalist and double world champion. We started off, with a theory session, which I found incredibly informative and from which, I wrote copious notes and then it was into the pool. Having never before, swam at the London Aquatic Centre, it was an awe inspiring experience!

To start with, the focus was on “aquatic breathing”. Something I’m relatively comfortable with. Keri-Anne then spoke to us about rotation and how that leads in to the arm pull. I learnt a lot from this and it was reflected the following Saturday, when my coach pointed out, that my rotation was noticably improved.

She then asked each ambassador to swim, half a length, as to allow her to assess what we need to work on, on our front crawl. For me it was the fact that my arms, aren’t straight, at the beginning of the pull, but rather crossing over, in front of my head. Keri-Anne offered some really useful advice, on how to work on improving this.

We then were offered the opportunity, to have go at coaching each other. This I enjoyed, but found challenging at the same time. I feel like I’m being critical of someone, if I tell them what they could improve on.

Combined with the above, there was lots of fun and laughter, including a handstand challenge. Handstands, were never my strong point, having never mastered them on land. With a bit of practice, I cracked it. I’m yet to see the video!

It was an amazing, if slightly terrifying afternoon. Being videod and photographed, at every turn. Giving interviews, the results of which I, like many people who hear their recorded voice, I cringe at, really pushed out of my comfort zone, but I am proud of myself of doing it.

I count myself aa being immensely blessed to have been offered, such an amazing opportunity! It was great fun and I learnt a great deal and I wil cherish the memories of such an amazing time.

On completion of the masterclass, I headed to the changing rooms, but before heading off to get changed I was asked, by Mel, if I would like to swim a length in the 50m competition pool. The answer was an unequivocal yes!

I was taken aback, as to how cold the pool was and it took my lungs a few seconds to adjust. Then I set off down the pool! It was a “scrappy length”, but it was still a special xperience, for me, to swim in a pool that a few years ago, featured on the world stage. A pool where amazing things were achieved, dreams realised, records broken, medals won and for some, hopes were dashed.

It’s also a place where, for me, I was given a fabulous opportunity. I could have never have forseen 3 years ago, that learning to swim, would lead to a day, such as today. It was such a special day.

On exiting the pool, there was further filming to be done. I would love to know what people thought, as I casually walked through the chalnging rooms, with an entorage of people in tow, including photographer and a camera crew.

One hilarious momemt happended, when two boys came charging along, heading to the pool, only to come up short, stop suddenly and subsequently nearly fall over each other. I ended up, desperately trying to stop myelf from laughing. On film, Im sure I look like I’m laughing at myself, in the mirror!

We finished with a further question and answer session, a quick de-brief. The it was time to begin thr long journey home. I got completly confused on the journey back to Kings Cross, but eventually I made it and then on the train, arriving home, close to midnight. I was tired, but the happy tired that follows a fulfilling day.

Before I left though, I summoned up the courage to asked Duncan for his autograph, for a good friend friend of mine, who regards him as her hero. I also asked for his autogragh, for myself!

I walked back to Stratford Station, with another ambassador. We relived the day, neither of us could quite believe what had happened.

I met a number of inspiring and amazing people, that day. People who I know.regard as friends.

I leave you with a few more photos

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Persistence pays off…

Today is “World Cancer Day”

It goes to say it’s may not be a day to be celebrated, but it is a date that needs to be marked. Huge strides have been made, over the years, through research as to the treatment of cancer.

The majority of people, in the UK, who recieve a diagnosis of cancer, will successfully undergo treatment. Treatment that can be long, painful and protected, in length. When I swim, my swimathon, I will be supported by M, herself a survivor of cancer.

Some people however, are much less fortunate. Cancer remains a thief, stealing mums, dads, friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so forth, leaving a trial of heartache and devastation in it’s wake. I have lost, two grandparents to cancer, my grandpops and my beloved “gang-gang”, my shadow!

Nearly every person, knows someone affected by cancer, either having lost a loved one or know someone, who thanks to research, treatment and the care they recieved, are still with us. Cancer Research is one such charity that enables this.

Cancer Research, along with Marie Curie; are this years charity partners for Swimathon 2018. They are hoping to raise £2million this year, for these two amazing charities.

There are still 12 weeks, till Swimathon Weekend. Plenty of time for people to sign up and train. This year there is the new 400m distance, perfect for beginners and less confident swimmers. Twelve weeks means that you will have sufficient time, to train, irrespective of the distance of your challenge.

This week, I’ve has found me working hard on my training. On Thursday I swam a total of 2km, in the pool. This included 250m, where I used tumble, rather than open turns.

I am swimming, to 400m challenge, which will be relatively easy for me. To increase the challenge I have decided to use tumble rather than open turns. It may however, prove to be difficult to achieve this, on the day, depending on how busy the lane is!

Friday saw me spending over an hour in the gym, first on the cross trainer. Then it was on to the treadmill, for 20 minutes, though I cling on for dear life, it feels strange to be walking, without the aid of my stick. Finally, I moved on to a machine that is essentially a bike, but instead of peddling with your feet, you use your hands. The peddles are, of course, higher. After this, I ran out of time to have a play on other machines.

Yesterday it was up at “stupid o’clock” for swim training.

It was a great session, in the pool, my coach gave us a challenging, and varied, set to complete. It was also great fun, with lots of laughter involved. Learning to swim, offers frequent opportunities to make right ejit of yourself. Don’t ever be afraid to laugh at yourself (and others).

In the afternoon, water was also involved. I went for a walk, it was pouring with rain! My hair was dripping, coat soaking and my shoes, squelching, it was still to prove great fun! I walked a mile, rested, then completed the return leg, heading for home and dry clothes!

This morning, it was Aquafit. It was a great session, with the teacher introducing some new excercises into the routine. For reasons, I can’t fathom, Aquafit seems to be, largely the preserve of women. There is only gentleman, who partakes in Aquafit. Good on him!

As today is World Cancer Day, I proudly wore my Swimathon T-Shirt, Zoggs costume and Swimathon hat.

Then it was to my final swim, of the week, 1500m. My “Gang-Gang”, my dad’s dad, whom I was very close too, loved to swim, but he gave the sport up, long before I was born. He often told me, how he’d swam “The River Humber”.

Sadly I never thought on, to enquire, did he just swim in “The River” (it’s actually an estuary) or swim from one side to the other. If he had, I would assume he’d swam from Hull, to New Holland. Again, I have no way of knowing. Unable to ascertain, the distance from Hull to New Holland, even with aid of Google, I was however, able to learn that it’s around 1.5km from Hessle to Barton upon Humber, my home town and where my grandad, worked and lived for most of his life.

Swimming 1.5k is now relatively easy for me. Today, it was prove hard work. I couldn’t get my breathing right, a fundamental element of freestyle. I felt like I was fighting the water. At 350 meters I climbed out, munched my way through a protien bar, took on some fluid and electrolytes. My thinking was that I was tired and needed hydration, after having had completed Aquafit.

Ten minutes later, I re-entered the water. There was little improvement, it felt like a slog. Nothing seemed to be coming together. It just felt such hard work.

Clambering out at 800m, I considered my options. Get out and go home or keep going, aiming for my orignal target. Going home, meant giving up. I wasn’t prepared to do that! I pottered over, to the sauna.

A sauna that was packed! I then proceeded to be an unwitting audience member of conversations relating to failed relationships, dumping your fiancee, for another woman, heavy drinking and cannabis smoking! I sat, rested a while, while these converations, swirled around me, trying not to judge others and the lives they choose to lead.

I headed back into the pool, I had decided to swim 1500m, 60 lengths, and that was what I was going to do. It still felt, like it was far harder work, than it should be, it still felt challenging. I had however, come to the acceptance that this was going to be, one of my “bad swims” and to getnon with it!

I was at 1200m, with just three hundred to go and suddenly, it all seemed to click in to place. I was swimming comfortably and with ease. It was fantastic, I was so happy I’d stuck with it, not given up. I reached my goal of 1500m and decided to continue to a mile, after all, it’s only 100m more and the tide might of been a bit higher, on the day my grandad swam it!

I did contemplate considering going on, to 2km, but it was rapidly approaching 2pm. The time when children are allowed back in the pool after the lunch time “Adult only Swim”.

This week is deemed, according to my training plan, from Keri-Ann Payne, to be my “rest week”. It doesn’t mean no swimming, it just means less swimming. It’s time to give my aching muscles and sore joints a rest.

First swim of 2017

Today, here in the UK, it’s a “bank holiday”… it’s a kind of hangover, as it were, from New Year. New Years Day fell on a Sunday, therefore today is a bank holiday. Which means most of the pools are shut and there’s no post (though Veron Dursley, from Harry Potter might be happy with that).

However, South Tyneside Leisure, opened two of their pools till three, so I enjoyed are leisurely lie in, till half past 11 (hardly necessary, as I barely moved yesterday!). I scoffed two weetabix (supermarket brand), had a yoghurt and set off to the pool.

It was are little busy, as to be expected, with a mixture of children, people trying to keep their New Years resolutions, leisure swimmer and people, like me, who just want to get in there and swim. 

One lane was taken, by three leisure swimmers, one of whom I couldn’t help sniggering at, as she lectured her friend how to swim properly. Before then setting off, head up, thrashing down the pool. I then remembered, I used to swim like that and I thought I could swim! We are often ignorant till correctly taught!

I bagged the spare lane, with the intention of swimming 2.5km.I was later joined, in the same lane, by another swimmer. A far better swimmer than I, that was until he stopped, to have a gossip with the woman, in the next lane. Consequently, I accidently put to boot in, when I did a tumble turn. It was totally unintented, but I am pretty sure he’ll be sporting a bruise or two, tomorrow!

My swim was initially, frustrating, I can not get my new goggles, right. They are either so tight, it feels like they are sucking my eye balls out of their sockets, or I loosen then, a little, then they leak and I find myself squinting against the chlorinated water, sloshing about in them! Things got even more uncomfortable,  when I tumble turn, as the force of the water, slid my goggles up my face!

Eventually my goggles were sorted and I was off. The battery level in my watch was concerning, sitting at only 10%. Thankfully, it lasted the course and hopefully, unless all of Garmins UK staff, have taken an extended break and don’t return to work, till after the festivities are over, the new charger should arrive tomorrow! 

It was a tough swim, throughout my swim I experienced pain in my back, hands, shoulder and elbow and right knee. It’s hard to keep going, when you’re hurting. Everything within me was saying “stop, stop!”

I know though, I can manage the pain. I can’t and won’t allow it to stop me. Pain is part of having arthritis and though unpleasent, not a reason to stop. The less I use these joints, the worse my flexibility and mobility becomes. The challenge is, knowing when you really need to stop! It’s difficult too, to focus on my swim and the enjoyment of it, when pain is clouding the experience. 

There’s a real sense of exhilaration, achievement and accomplishment though, as I push myself onwards. I relish the significantly increased fitness levels, that swimming regularly, has given to me. 

Keeping going, isn’t so much physical as psychological. It’s about having and keeping the right mental attitude. It’s easy (and to a point, dangerous) to focus on the pain, or rather how much pain you’re in. Focusing on the pain, makes it easier to give in and harder to continue, it’s saps your energy and turns your focus to a less positive one. Yes we all have, and are entitled, to have our bad days, days were it’s too much to deal with, where we struggle. It’s when this becomes our key focus, where negative thoughts processes dominate and we become largely fixated on the struggles we face, this is when I feel it becomes difficult to even consider ways of finding ways to overcome, manage and deal with the challenges and curveballs that life with a long term condition throws at you.

But, my swim was also good. I posted a good time for my 200IM, just outside my PB (which is a rubbish time, when compared to Olympians). 

In April I am undertaking, like last year, Swimathon. This year for Marie Curie, in opposed to Sport relief. Last year, I didn’t care how I completed it, I just wanted to get through it. Last year I swam 1.5km, this year, it’s the more challenging 2.5km and I want to smash my PB of 1hr 50. This year I have a “game plan”. 

Swimming 2.5km is a decent distance and consequently, more psychologically challenging. One hundred lengths seems like a long distance, at the start, so I work in sets of 100m. Twenty-five sets, seems far more palitable. This year I hope to swim 100m breast stroke and 100m freestyle, alternating. 

My freestyle endurance is still pretty limited, so starting at 1000m, I will increase the distance by 200m each week. I also really need to work on my breast stroke kick, which is, to put it simply,  rubbish. This isn’t helped, by my arthritis and more especially, the nerve and muscle damage in my left hip. I also need to work, on improving my overall stamina and fitness levels, though they are pretty good now and this shows in my general endurance, there’s still, improvements that can be made! 

I successfully swam 1200m, in this manner, the last 100m of freestyle was particularly challenging, as my asthma caused me to become breathless. On completion, it was just before 2.50pm. I clarified, that the closing time was 3pm, the lifeguard replied, “yes”, before adding “so you’ve got time for a few more lengths”. 

At previous pools I’ve swam at the closing time, isn’t the time they boot you out the pool, it’s the time they boot you out the building! I’ve known in the past, where I’ve acrally been swimming in the dark, because they’ve turned the lights out (long before their advertised closing time)! 

Stealing a glance at the clock, I decided to go for another 300m, I was at 2.2km and needed just those few more lengths to make it to, too 2.5km. I knew that staying in, would mean joining the mad dash and melee, for the showers, when I did get out. But hey ho, I was off again!

Alas, I didn’t make it to 2.5km…I completed 250m making it, 2,450m only to find a lifeguard peering at me, from the side of the pool “time to get out love”, “can I just do another 50m I pleaded”, my pleas fell on deaf ears. They were shut and it was time to leave! 

I spent the next two hours only focused on the fact that I hadn’t completed 2500m as I’d hoped to and disappointed by the missed 50m, before realising, I was focusing only on the negative. I had, had a good swim, achieved a lot and I needed to be happy with what I had done, the 2450m and had swam and not focused on the fact that I hadn’t been able to swim the last 50m, to take me to 2500m!

Final training, swim

Tonight, I headed back to the pool. This time to Washington Pool, where I will undertaking,  my Swimathon.

I wanted to be confident, that I knew where to go, what the parking was like, what facilities were available what the pool was like.

It soon proved to be a good move, as it took me ages to locate it, round the back of Asda. Parking, I discovered, was horrendous, with little room to manouver round the car park, no disabled bays were available, filled with, as so often happens, several people not displaying blue badges. If you want my parking space, you can have my disability! It infuriates me!

Once I’d  parked  up, I spent a few minutes outside,  just thinking and centemplating. It’s over-whelming, to think that in a couple of days time, I’ll be back here for swimathon. Where has the last 10 weeks gone?

I headed indoors and first, had a perusal at the range of swimming goodies on sale, but didn’t purchase anything. I then wandered up to the reception desk, offering my “Sunderland Council Active Card”

I was informed, the card was no longer valid, as the pool is now ran by “Everyone Active”, would I like a replacement, without thinking, I replied “yes”. I nearly had heart failure when I was charged over £17, for a card and a swim. Talk about taking your eyes out and coming back for the sockets! My Sunderland Active Card was only 10 months old!

I really don’t mind paying £16.00 for a lesson, because it’s worth every penny, but I thought that, that was a tad excessive. It’s all relative, I guess.

The “changing village” proved to be, an experience in itself. The cubicles, each, have two doors, come out the wrong one and your faced with a metal fence, it was a bit of a nightmare, to negotiate, to be honest. However, the changing rooms had one advantage; a shelf. A shelf for bunging all your essentials on, as you get ready, no scrabbling around, trying to locate everything you need, in limited space, dropping stuff on the floor, into puddles, as you go

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Eventually, once changed, I located a locker, stowed my gear in it and headed to the pool.

On entering the pool, two things caught my eye. The pool was rammed and secondly, the two amazing and fun looking slides. Can adults have a go, I thought? On Friday, I may bomb down them both, in celebration of completing my swim. They looked ace!

I leapt into the pool, to a bit of a suprise, the deep end, is at the opposite end to what I’m used to.

Thankfully, there was a lane avaliable and I bagged it, it was good to see people observing lane etiquette and not using the lane for their personal space, for a natter with their mates, as happened a few weeks ago.

As soon as I started to swim, I was able to recognise that tonight’s swim, felt much better than what it had the previous night, maybe because I felt better, more confident and assured.  A few lengths to warm up and then I then I set off, on a longer swim. I set myself the target of swimming for forty-five minutes continuous.

It was, at times, hard going. I am learning now, if breathless becomes an issue, to always switch to a “slow breast stroke” that way I can focus on  getting my breathing, back under control. At the same time, I’m thinking, in my head, relax, relax, relax! as advised by J. I am beginning to recognise,  that trying to speed up, to reach the end of the lane, when I am feeling puffed, actually makes it worse. It’s a continual learning process and not one that’s easy. It’s about being aware of me, my body, my stroke, everything.

The time, crept round, I kept going, up and down the pool.  At the same time, identifying the landmarks, telling me where I am in the pool, how far up the lane I am. Washington pool, I found is great for this, it has a number of posters along the side if the pool advising parents and participants of different ASA levels, where to meet. I just need to remember, which way round they go, That’s not to say, I don’t know how to count!

As I swam, I felt myself, fall back into my regular rythym and pattern, it started to feel really comfortable again. The time slipped by, suddenly fourty  minutes had elapsed.  I determined to swim another six lengths. And then I stopped.

Fifty two minutes had elapsed, since I had started, I had swam 1250m. I was happy with that, pleasantly suprised in fact, yet disappointed at the same time. I had another 10 lengths to complete, to reach 1500m,  meaning that I would not of completed my challenge sub-one hour, my goal.

However, there is little point, in me being unhappy, with where I am. It’s not a race, it’s a challenge, 10 months ago I could barely swim, three months ago I could manage 800m,  I’ve come a long way. I need to be proud, happy, not disappointed. Last week, I was unwell, too unwell to swim, this week I’m better, but asthma is still not great.

I finished with a cool down, of a few more lengths, meaning that I totalled 1650 metres. I decided, that this was it, enough was enough, it’s time to call it a day on my training.

I’ve trained for 10 weeks, I’ve worked with my tutors, I’m continuing to make progress. My technique, is better every week. This week, I’ve swam three days, another day will make no real difference, I know I can do it, rest would be better.

So, my decision was made, rest on Thursday, there’s no point taking a tired, aching body into the pool, on Friday. A rested one, will be far more productive, so my aim for Thursday: eat well, drink plenty, rest lots.

Return of my phone

My phone is back, thank goodness. I can return to blogging on the go!

While in the Metro Centre, I spotted a sign, declaring “Sports Direct, Closing down sale”, well despite having enough costumes and swim equipment, to open a shop, myself, I decided it would be rude not to!

Fortunately, as it so happened, they were very nearly closed, with lots of empty shelves in evidence and no swim gear,  evident. So I came away, empty handed and with my purse un-opened.

New swimming goodies…

After that, rather despondent, previous post, I thought I’d post something a little more positive.

I initially bought my swim wear from a large, generic, sports shop. A sport shop, where I embarrassed myself, by dropping Starbucks Mango Smoothie on the floor, leaving a rapidly spreading,  yellow, sticky puddle.

On the day of my first, swimming lesson, I was grateful for the existence of this shop, as I’d left my swimming gear, ten miles away, at home. Deciding, that the local leisure centre wouldn’t appreciate seeing me, “in the buff” I made a mad dash round there and then on to Tesco for a towel.

Today,  a package arrived from “proswimwear” excitedly I tore it open, to reveal two new swimming costumes, a bargain reduced from £40 to £9, each. It, was however, when I tried one I realised I had a problem.  I rechecked to size conversion chart, to discover, I’d ordered them both, in two sizes to small! They fit, but they are, shall we say, snug. At least I can hide the evidence, in the pool, being so snug they are a tad unforgiving. I think I gave the poor guinea pig, a bit of a shock, when I strode past her cage, so clad.

Concern about “what I look like in a swimming costume” seems to raise itself, quite frequently, in my conversations with others. Sadly, some people are so worried, that it becomes a barrier, preventing them from swimming. There’s no easy answer, to this, but rarely do I take notice of what others look like. I appreciate, that it’s difficult for people to accept this, but it really doesn’t matter, people will judge, no matter what, if they view you negatively, that’s a reflection on them, not you. Swimming is fun, your time in the pool should not be spoilt, by the judgements and attitudes of others.

Then  tried on my pool shoes, again a significantly reduced bargain,  at £3.99, I am a bit doddery on my feet at the best of times and slippy pool sides can be a bit of a hazard. Thankfully they fit well and are comfy.

Finally my “pull boy” I obviously can’t try this out in the house, I’d just look like I’m walking, desperate for the toilet! The bath isn’t big enough, though I could give it a try, out in the street, given how much it’s rained today.

I am really starting to worry though, I think I’ve developed obsessive, swim equipment  buying disorder or something. I started out with a couple of costumes, goggles and a towel, I now own at least six costumes, two towels, three pairs of goggles-one was a Christmas gift and one pair appears to be leaking-swimming with water sloshing around in your goggles is very unpleasant, resulting in you squinting as you swim, a pull boy, kick board, pool shoes, flippers, snorkel and snorkel mask (never used) along with various anti-chlorine shampoos, swim spray, swim hats, and shower gels.