After learning to swim ‘properly’ I took part in Aspire’s pool swim challenge, the Aspire Channel Swim (swimming the length of the channel in 12 weeks) after which my friend Cazz, who has swum the Channel twice with Aspire, suggested I try open water swimming starting with Aspire’s Solent Swim, because as it would be my first open water swim it shouldn’t be too difficult for me.  So before I knew it, I had signed up!   Having taken part in Aspire’s pool swim I was glad of the opportunity to continue to support the charity.

That’s when I started swimming outdoors.  I first swam in open water in May 2019 and swam the Solent that August.  I absolutely loved swimming it; the conditions were amazing, with a blazing sun and the sea was so calm. I had honestly doubted myself so much, but I also know how stubborn and determined I am, so knew I wouldn’t give up. I am so proud of myself for having done it.  I then took part in the Coniston Epic Lakes Swim in August 2020 and have swum leisurely in lakes.

Gemma swimming behind a kayak in the Solent

It was also Cazz who suggested I take on a Relay Channel Swim.  She came with me to an Aspire training weekend in Dover when I was training for my Solent Swim and jokingly said “you should do the Channel Swim, it’s loads easier because you only swim for an hour at a time.”  My instant response was “no thanks” but then after my Solent swim I thought “let’s go for it”, and so I went to Aspire’s Assessment Day and was accepted.

I enjoy open water swimming so much more than pool swimming because it’s way more interesting and fun.  It makes me feel free and I always have a sense of achievement after swimming in open water.

This will be my biggest challenge yet. I have to try to not get into my own head and tell myself I will get too tired and give up halfway. But I know how strong I am, and I have to tell myself that I can do it.  One of my first challenges was getting over the fear of not being able to see the floor when swimming.

Gemma swimming wearing an Aspire swim hat

Training

I was supposed to swim the channel last year, but we went into lockdown and I missed 12 weeks of swim training. This year with another lockdown I had to stop swimming, as pools and lakes were closed again and unfortunately I don’t live near to the sea. But I’ve been able to keep my training going with weight work, online workouts and running.

Last year the swimming side of it was going amazingly well; I was improving weekly with my speed, technique and stamina. Now, without swimming, my training continues to go well. I am running and doing lots of weight training to continue to build up arm and shoulder strength.

Gemma in a wetsuit coming out of a lake

My team (Team Huskies) are fantastic. We are all a fun bunch, the jokes flow freely and I really feel like I’ve been put in an amazing team. We haven’t yet met in person, but we have had many Zoom meetings.  We try to keep the communication going as much as possible over WhatsApp. The support is great, everyone is very encouraging, we all give each other advice and tips and share pretty much everything we do with regards to the swim.

Our boat leader Peter is AMAZING. He’s doing a great job leading us, regularly popping up on the group chat with dates for us all to have a Zoom. He offers support to us all and answers all the questions we have. He has never been negative about anything, even the lockdown, and is always encouraging us and giving us help and advice.  His best advice was to get those cold showers in!

My advice to others taking on this challenge would be to get acclimatised as soon as possible to the cold water. Keep training as much as possible, even when you find yourself not able to swim. And think positively all the time.

Gemma swimming in a lake

Fundraising

Last year my fundraising was going really well, but after postponing my swim to this year, it stopped. But I have a few things set up and ready for this year’s fundraising, including an online quiz, a raffle and a bake sale.

I thought I would struggle with fundraising because of Covid but last year I did a bake sale and delivered them to each and every person. I also did an online quiz. I’m trying to do things from home that others can get involved in.

My friend’s husband has a spinal cord injury and so to see the work Aspire does and how they help people live independent lives is incredible.  I am honoured to help support them.

After doing the pool swim with Aspire, I wanted to continue to support them as the work they do is amazing - how they help people live independent lives is incredible.  After my Solent swim I wanted to continue to swim with them because they offer so much support to their swimmers.

Our swim is planned to take place mid-August and I’m very excited but also very nervous. Let’s go Team Huskies!  It’s going to be amazing to say I swam the English Channel during a pandemic.

Collage of Gemma in a wetsuit in the Solent

 

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