This summer Kristen is taking on her “Sporty Fourty” Challenge: a Loch Ness solo swim, a tandem swim across the Gibraltar Strait and Aspire’s Sealand Swim.  She has already successfully completed a relay Channel swim, a Loch Ness relay swim and a solo Channel swim.

Kristen in a dryrobe on a boat with her thumbs up   Kristen swimming away from the White Cliffs of Dover

I grew up in Michigan in the US which has a lot of inland lakes.  My parents were afraid of us getting out of our cottage and into the lake not knowing how to swim so signed us up for lessons at an early age. Because of this, I’ve always been around open water and comfortable swimming outdoors.

I didn’t really get into swimming any distance until just before I moved to the UK and signed up for a triathlon for which I needed to practice distance outdoor swimming.  Once I’d moved to the UK I tried to continue triathlons but realised quite quickly that I much preferred the swimming portion and found that the UK has some great opportunities to do distance swims.

Open water swimming is very cathartic for me and my own version of meditation. I use swimming as a time to reflect on what is happening in my life, whether good or bad, and have worked through many experiences while swimming and been better off for it.  

My swimming journey with Aspire started with my relay Channel swim in 2015. I found out about the charity when one of the triathlons I did in London gave out Outdoor Swimmer magazine which had an ad looking for relay Channel Relay swimmers. I reached out and the rest is history!  It was good to be put into a relay as I didn’t have a network of fellow swimmers and I still feel a connection to the people in my relay team and most of us have kept in touch.

Kristen with her teammates

In 2018 I reunited with five of my relay Channel swim teammates for an unofficial relay of Loch Ness.  This is when I got the inspiration to do a solo Channel swim and Aspire was one of the charities I chose to fundraise for, given my strong connection as to why I had gotten to that point.

Swimming with Aspire is great. I attribute my Channel swimming experience to Aspire, which has been a very important part of my life. I keep doing it because I find the experience very motivating, inspiring and also challenging in just the right way.  I’ve met some of the most amazing and supportive people through these experiences and would not trade it for anything in the world.

I have signed up to do Aspire’s Sealand Swim for two reasons.  Firstly, I had seen a documentary about Sealand on TV and found the concept of the location rather fascinating.  Secondly, I found out that Aspire had started doing swims from this fascinating place and thought that would be such an amazing experience and story to tell.  I also love that it is a relatively new and niche swim and I can help people learn a bit more about Sealand when I talk about it.

My Sporty Fourty challenge

I turn 40 years old this June.  I’ve never been one to celebrate birthdays but feel this one is worthy as I am at a time in my life where I feel rather confident in who I am and am not afraid of becoming - as Americans say - “over the hill”.  

Telling a colleague that I was celebrating a milestone birthday this summer he asked, “does it rhyme with nifty” which made me laugh and I said “no, it rhymes with sporty!”  I often get ‘overaged’ at work so thought it was actually rather funny instead of offensive that he thought I was nearly 10 years older than I am and it just gave me the idea for the rhyme.

Kristen swimming in Loch Ness with a Nessie toy held above

I had already wanted to do my Loch Ness swim the summer I turned 40 and then Gibraltar and Sealand just sort of naturally fell into place at the same time, so it made sense to focus on my sporting endeavours.  With Gibraltar, it had not necessarily been on the cards for this summer but I received an email that my time on a four year wait list had come up so I couldn’t say no.  I’ve decided to do this as a tandem swim and felt it would be rather symbolic to do it with someone who swam the Channel on the exact same day as me, so I hope that we are successful together.

There are always personal challenges and fears which change depending on where you are in your life.  When I was swimming the Channel, I was trying to overcome a rather significant turning point in my career.  Now, I’m in a great place in my career and trying to understand more about where I am in my personal life and where I am headed for my next forty years.  I’m afraid of the currents in Gibraltar and the fact that this will be a tandem swim and that we may have to be able to accomplish a particular speed and time.  For Loch Ness, this is a huge unknown and will probably be the hardest swim I will have had to date - the longest, coldest and likely a lot of nighttime swimming.  My Channel swim was such a fortunate experience and I don’t expect I will have the same luck.  Sealand is actually the one I am looking forward to as more of a ‘great day out’ as well as a challenge.

My training has been going as well as I hoped.  I tend to swim, or at least get into cold water, year round so am no stranger to the cold.  Otherwise I train in the pool but try to do more drills as it is difficult to get in distance.  I very much look forward to the beginning of May when I can start to go to Dover on the weekends and really start clocking up the hours.

Fundraising tends to be slow at the beginning until people really start to see the long hours I’m putting in on the weekends.  I hope that it will pick up in the coming weeks but I also have three big events where I am planning to ask for donations so that will be three times the exposure to help with raising as much as possible.

I don’t personally know anyone with a spinal cord injury but recently a lady donated to my page because she had a family member with a spinal injury who Aspire had helped, which was hugely beneficial for them, so that was enough of a reason to continue fundraising for Aspire.  I have been to the Aspire Leisure Centre and it seemed like an absolutely amazing facility.  

Swimming with Aspire

Aspire connected me to my Channel Relay team in 2015 which was an amazing group of people which included Kelvin Davies.  I had actually met Kelvin earlier at a Great Swim event where we shared a cab and train ride home because the journey was otherwise difficult and had a great conversation.  It was great to see him on my relay team and all six of us got along really well and mostly kept in touch after our crossing.  In August 2018, five of the six of us met up to do an unrecorded swim of Loch Ness as a relay.  We were successful but during this time I had spoken with Kelvin quite a bit about his upcoming Channel slot where he had organised a pilot and was working with a swimming coach so that he could do a solo Channel swim.  It was during this trip that Kelvin gave me the inspiration that I could possibly do a Channel swim myself and the seed was planted.  Only a few months later, I decided I was going to go for it and started reaching out to pilots and next thing I knew I had signed up.  This is why I attribute both Aspire and Kelvin for inspiring one of my greatest memories and achievements when I made my solo Channel swim.  My logic for when I turned 40 was Channel Relay, Loch Ness Relay, Channel Solo and Loch Ness Solo (hopefully).  The late Kelvin Davies who I know was also a big supporter of Aspire was also a big part of this experience for me so I am happy to both raise funds for this important charity in my life experience but also in honour of him.

Sponsor Kristen

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