Posts tagged ‘Lake District’

28 October, 2013

Making waves for RoSPA

Ten thousand people squeezed themselves into wetsuits to take part in the Great North Swim in beautiful Windermere recently – and I am proud to say that I was one of them.

SueMullarkey_fundraisingOpen water swimming events are becoming increasingly popular and this one is part of a series of five Great Swims held up and down the country from London’s Docklands to Loch Lomond. The participants range from elite open-water swimmers to complete novices (like me), many of whom take on the challenge of swimming a mile to raise money for their favourite charity.

When James, my brother-in-law and a seasoned triathlete, asked last Christmas if he could stay with us in the Lake District so he could do the Windermere swim, it got me thinking that I should enter too.  I have always enjoyed swimming, both in the pool and on those rare sunny days in Cumbria from the back of our sailing boat in Derwentwater. And one mile really didn’t sound that far.  A couple of sessions a week at the local leisure centre and I was soon able to crack the requisite number of lengths – 64.  But swimming any distance in a pool is, of course, very much easier than doing it in open water.

Whilst I was honing my front crawl, RoSPA had just started to carry out sponsored fundraising for the first time and so I was persuaded to become a guinea pig fundraiser.  As a mum, I have been shocked to learn that accidental death and injury is the biggest threat to children – far more than disease – and yet just about everybody is unaware of this.  Simple programmes can really help to educate parents on how to keep their kids safe and RoSPA does this, campaigning on a wide range of issues to change people’s perceptions.  Most people are happy to give to a charity which supports some quite obscure or rare disease but perhaps don’t know much about this more urgent way to use their donation.  So I was keen to do my bit to help get RoSPA noticed.

As sponsor money began to roll in from generous friends, family and supporters, the arrival of a slinky new wetsuit just a couple of weeks before the swim added another dimension to my training.  I tried it out in chilly Derwentwater and, although it kept me warmish, it felt tight and restrictive and made me so overly buoyant that I had to completely adjust my technique.  A mile was beginning to seem like a long way.

"As a mum, I have been shocked to learn that accidental death and injury is the biggest threat to children – far more than disease – and yet just about everybody is unaware of this." - Sue Mullarkey

“As a mum, I have been shocked to learn that accidental death and injury is the biggest threat to children – far more than disease – and yet just about everybody is unaware of this.” – Sue Mullarkey

The day of the swim was cool and breezy and, arriving at the lakeshore already a bundle of nerves, I was terrified to see how grey and choppy Windermere looked.  I’d fretted about water temperature, uncomfortable wetsuits, leaky goggles, getting kicked in the face by another swimmer (I could go on) but never even considered the possibility that the water might be rough. Neoprene-clad swimmers of all ages and shapes were limbering up or, if they had already completed the swim, posing for photos with their medals – and everyone was talking about how choppy the water was.  But if they could do it, I could too – besides I couldn’t let down all those people who were so generously supporting me and RoSPA.

Great North Swim participants are divided into ‘waves’ which start at half-hourly intervals over the weekend and each involve up to 300 people in colour-coded swimming hats.  James and I were sporting natty pink caps and, after taking part in the mass warm-up session, it was time for our wave to take to the water. The start was a melee of thrashing legs and arms, but heeding James’ advice and staying near the back of the pack I managed to avoid being kicked or swum over by the keen guys. If the water was cold, I really didn’t notice it – choppiness was the major problem.  It was impossible to get into a rhythm because every breath involved an unwelcome gulp of lake-water.  I soon abandoned my hard-practiced front crawl for a more defensive breaststroke/doggy paddle.  Progress was very slow.  But after 57 exhausting minutes, I had done a final flourish of crawl past the finish and was back on dry land – wobbly-legged but elated.  No matter that the fastest (elite) lady took just 19 minutes!

It was a great challenge, wonderful to have been able to raise over £1,000 for RoSPA and, what’s more, I am already training for next year.

Sue Mullarkey

www.justgiving.com/suemullarkey

26 August, 2011

Gone wild swimmin’

One of the many pleasures of moving to Cumbria last year was the opportunity to go completely wild a bit more often. I’ve been enjoying weekends and holidays up there for more than thirty years, so I’d already sussed out some great swimming spots (which will remain top secret!).

There’s nothing better after a day on the fells than to rejuvenate tired limbs in cold water, and with a sailing boat and a canoe in the inventory, to complement shanks’s pony and the (t)rusty bike, it’s easy to get into some remote spots where others might fear to tread water.

Our CEO takes a dip

With RoSPA having taken more than a bit of flak from open water swimmers in the past, it is now time to disclose that the CEO and quite a few others of us RoSPA folk often go wet and wild. To be even more honest, I have swum in some uncommon places, including all of the Great Lakes (some kind of bet), Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan (seriously, painfully cold) and the Ganges at Varanasi (spiritually uplifting but bacterially soupy). Also, if you take to cold water with all the happy, panting enthusiasm of a Newfoundland dog, you might as well swim there too, and I have.

Of course at RoSPA, we know only too well that people should never swim where it is prohibited (e.g. some parks, rivers, reservoirs and gravel pits), should never be impaired by alcohol and should not swim directly after a meal.  There are plenty of websites devoted to the joys of wild swimming, containing advice, information and recommending places to get wet.

And despite the image of bohemian freedom conjured up by wild swimming, there are quite a few pointers that I have learnt along the way, to suit my own appetite for “wild”. In Cumbria, my greatest fear is being swept away, so in a river if the current looks too fast, it is too fast and I look for somewhere more benign.

I also do a quick recce around the spot in case anything looks dangerous or has changed since the last visit – a boulder likely to tumble, a fallen tree or a jumble of rocks to get your foot trapped in – all need to be scoped out.

Swimming shoes are must-haves (light and easy to pack in a rucksack) to protect the feet and give some kind of grip on slimy rocks, as are trunks (middle-aged man alert!) because the alternative, though DH Lawrence-esque, could easily spook any passing walkers. Mountain Rescue has enough on its plate!

Not everybody was enamoured of the cold...!

Submerged, waterlogged trees are as rigid as iron and very painful if a sharp branch hits a vital part. So I go in slowly and get my breath before swimming and if the water is really cold (I’m a wimpy April-October type), I aim to stay within my depth, swimming parallel to the shore, in case of cramp in those tired, fell-worn limbs.

Most importantly, I have never, ever gone alone, tempting though the solitude is, and whether my wife, one of my sons or a friend is with me, we always have a brief chat about the hazards and what to do in an emergency.

But taking these precautions is only a tiny impediment to the feeling that soon follows once the body settles down and the “hit” of that peaty, cold water washes over the soul, the pleasure heightened by the glorious Lakeland surroundings. It is pure magic, a cleansing, invigorating antidote to all the cares of the world.

When you emerge, reborn and renewed, everything in your life looks that little bit sharper and brighter, there is a tiny, involuntary smile on your lips and, for the rest of the day, you walk, springy with joy, on a soft cushion of fresh mountain air.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s Chief Executive

 

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