In my early 50’s I was overweight, unfit and loathed all forms of exercise. Then I joined Slimming World, lost a couple of stone, and began looking around for some kind of activity that would keep the weight off. The gym was pretty dull, and I am rubbish at all ball games, but I remembered liking swimming at school, so I started going once a week and swimming 40 lengths in 40 minutes, which I was pretty happy with.
Then, three summers ago, I discovered that our local open air Lido was open early some days for lane swimming, and so I went down there one cold but sunny May morning before breakfast, stripped off my many layers of warm clothing, and plunged in. It was bliss. Blue sky, birdsong and only a slight rumble of traffic noise. I was hooked, and swam twice a week all season, rain or shine, managing eventually to swim 2000m at a time with my slow and steady breaststroke.
When September came, and the Lido closed for the winter, I decided to learn to swim properly, so took myself off to the Guildford Spectrum and signed myself up for one to one lessons on a Monday afternoon at 3. At that time of day all the other learners were preschool children, so I felt a little conspicuous, but was soon too busy working hard to remember to feel silly. The lovely Louise sorted out my woeful screw kick, my low elbows and my terrible breathing and even managed to get me to dive in and tumble turn, to the amusement of the little ones! I was swimming further and faster and really enjoying myself, so when Louise moved away I decided to move up a gear.
The Surrey Sports Park is a big new sports facility up at the university of Surrey here in Guildford, and they have an amazing 50 meter long pool. I enrolled in an evening swimming class there and at 9 on a Monday evening there were absolutely no toddlers to judge me! However, my new coach, a cheery postgraduate student called Josh, treated me like one of the University swim squad and made me swim drills and sets, pushing me to improve. As a special end of term treat he tied me to a bungee rope to show me just how hard I could swim if I really wanted to reach the end of the length – the reward comes when you let go and get towed all the way back to the start at high speed!
When Josh graduated and gave up coaching, I needed a new focus to keep me going, so joined Guildford City Swimming Club Masters Squad. Once a week I train with a mixed group ranging from teens to OAPs, most of whom have been swimming competitively all their lives, and some of whom train for 4 or 6 hours every week! I’m back to being the slowest in the pool, but am enjoying the challenge, and now and again the monosyllabic Ivo, my latest coach, will say “well done, Alison”, which makes me very proud of myself!
So thanks to Louise, Josh and Ivo I now count myself a proper swimmer despite being a late starter.
I have carried on going to the Lido when it is open, and was thinking about trying Open Water swimming once the weather warmed up, and so when a friend suggested I enter the Henley Mile it seemed a perfect fit. My worries – the other swimmers! I like a lane to myself and the idea of thrashing along in a crowd is rather alarming!