I first signed up to the Aspire Channel Swim in 2021 because I had started open water swimming that summer and it was mentioned by people I was speaking to in the open water community.

The first year I found the challenge harder than I thought it would be, especially when my daughter was ill for some of the time and getting to the pool was difficult. Last year was a little easier and this year I’ve already completed some other challenges so I hope it will be straightforward, but you never can tell!

Supporting Aspire was important to me. I have Cauda Equina Syndrome but when I first acquired it there wasn’t a lot of support. I didn’t know Aspire existed.

Being disabled I can have issues with accessibility, particularly in open water. Although I’m a walker I still have nerve damage in my legs, so getting out of some swimming pools can be difficult. I have no problems once I’m in the water and often compare myself to a penguin in that I’m not the best walker but I’m graceful in the water!  I don’t use my legs to swim, so can’t really do breaststroke; if I try I don’t seem to move very far, so it’s front crawl all the way for me.

Olivia with her daughter in the water

I enjoy swimming because it’s the one thing I can do, so I’ve signed up to the Aspire Channel Swim for the third year in a row. I enjoy the challenge and I love that I have something that 'makes' me go swimming at a time of year when you just want to curl up and hibernate. I want to keep the momentum going and keep swimming all year round - indoors and out - because it helps me in so many ways.

I swim because it’s beneficial for my mental health, as well as my physical health. I have a daughter with special needs and elderly parents with complex needs so that space and time just for myself is invaluable. Swimming has also made some of my own health issues easier to deal with, such as keeping blood pressure and cholesterol down. I love being in the water, it’s like meditating, it gives me freedom. I love the sound of the water when I have my head under. My dad is from Ireland and from a lovely place next to the sea and I think I’m a bit of a thalassophile!

The Aspire Channel Swim helps me because it makes me go to the pool or lake, even those times when I may not be feeling it. I tell everyone I’m doing the challenge and that I ‘have to’ go and swim. My husband knows I’m happier when I’m able to go for a swim.  If I’m being a bit grumpy he’ll ask when I’m next going for a swim! 

I swim at Hillingdon Sports and Leisure Centre and Highgrove Pool and try to do some of the miles in open water before it gets too chilly.

For people taking on the Aspire Channel Swim for the first time I say enjoy it and don’t worry too much as the Aspire team are really supportive as well as the Facebook group. If you need a little extra time it’s fine, don’t let stressing that you haven’t finished in time take away from the enjoyment of the swimming. Also, if you can do as much as possible sooner rather than later you’ll take some pressure off yourself.

Fundraising was great the first year as my family were very supportive. It was more challenging last year but I’m hoping to up it again this year. I mainly send the JustGiving link via WhatsApp to people, but I will probably share it on social media this year too, although I’m aware that it’s difficult for people at the moment.  I have the extra incentive of now being lucky enough to work for Aspire – I started as Patient Education Administrator earlier this year - so now being part of the team makes it even more special to be able to support Aspire.

I’ve been living with Cauda Equina for 18 years and I didn’t get any support outside of the hospital team. I didn’t know that there were charities such as Aspire, which are a lifeline for some patients, so I’m happy I’m able to take on the challenge.

I like to challenge myself each year to see if I can go a little further; trying to swim 44 miles to France and back is one of my aims, although I’m not there yet.  I hope to continue taking part each year as well as other swim challenges - the Aspire Loch Ness swim is next on my list!

Sponsor Olivia

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