Jackie didn’t learn to swim until she was 41 and is taking on her 10th Aspire Channel Swim

I didn’t learn to swim until I was 41.  Long story short; I was thrown in the sea when I was 11 but I couldn’t swim. The uncle who threw me in the sea along with another friend did not know that I couldn’t swim, that I was terrified of the water and that I had my period. I was mortified and absolutely terrified by this experience and that was that for 30 years.

Then in 1998, a very good friend was horrified when, knowing I was sporty, learned that I could not swim. So she said something like; “Right: Kentish Town Pool, Monday 7.30, bring a cossie.”  She was a qualified diving instructor and I learned to get water confident at her diving club.

Jackie outside the leisure centre

Roll forward to 2014. I had taken early retirement and swum a bit but knew I needed to improve and so I had 1-2-1 lessons with a great teacher at Summerfields Leisure Centre.  She has gradually turned me in to a swimmer. I only do front crawl; all efforts to try to get me to do breaststroke failed.  In fact, one night a few of the guys wearing snorkels watched my attempts under water. To slightly paraphrase a famous Morecambe and Wise quote: I was making all the right movements… but not necessarily in the right order!

I did my first Aspire Channel Swim in 2015 after seeing a poster about the challenge at Summerfields. That first year I found it extremely hard to complete the challenge in the 12 weeks and I finished on the last day.  Each year I have tried to do better.  I have done it every year since because I love doing the challenge and I like to have a target or challenge to aim for.  

I also want to see if I can improve or, at my age, sustain the levels I have achieved.  I keep my own record and like to see how I am doing and what how long I have left.  I’m not able to raise much money but I do sponsor myself and a few friends kindly chip in. This year I will start collecting my State Pension during the challenge.

I always wanted to be able to swim and I have been doing so regularly since I took early retirement.  I like to push myself but, at the same time, I sometimes just think about other things, to clear my head.  On a long swim I set a little maths challenge for myself, such as “I have done 8 lengths so if I am doing a mile,  how much have I got left, what fraction is that?”  I know swimming is good for my body and it really keeps me in shape.

I like the thought that I am clocking up lengths for a great distance in the security of a swimming pool.  I also like the thought that the very small amount of money that I raise goes towards helping someone with a spinal cord injury maybe move to an adapted property or help manage their injury in some way. Every little helps.

Swimming has a lot of benefits for me.  I have always been sporty.  I always joke that if I keep trying different sports I will find one I am good at!  I did gain some weight when I stopped work, so when I started losing it, swimming helped me to sustain the weight loss and help keep me in shape. 

I like to have targets in just about everything I do.  In my work environment SMART targets were always referred to - and of course they are very important.  The Aspire Channel Swim is a very SMART target; it keeps me fit, helps to sustain my strength and when I swim I know I’m doing a little bit to help other people.

Jackie standing in the swimming pool

For swimmers taking on the challenge for the first time, I really recommend the Aspire Channel Swim Facebook Group.  Unlike so many of these groups one sees out there, the Aspire one is full of nice supportive encouraging people who cheer one another on and can often give advice when people ask for it.  I have never seen any unpleasantness.  

It’s also wise to remember that there are some phenomenal swimmers doing this challenge.  The first time I looked at the Facebook Group someone had done about 3 miles and it was day one… it takes me that long to get my goggles on!  Some people start early for personal reasons, and many are quick and brilliant, but don’t let any of that deter you.  It is your challenge and you should do it your way.  There isn’t a stopwatch over your head and there is no pressure.  It is not the swim in the swimmer, it is the swimmer in the swim!  Other than that, enjoy what you are doing.  You never know what you can do until you do it!

Sponsor Jackie

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