Sue has been swimming with Aspire since 2016.  She has done the Aspire Channel Swim three times as well as the River Arun, Solent, Lake Bala and Henley swims.

I first came across Aspire back in 2016. My attention was caught by a poster in the changing rooms at my local swimming pool in Devizes. It was advertising the Aspire Channel Swim Challenge – swim 22 miles over 12 weeks in your local pool – to raise funds for Aspire and support people with Spinal Cord Injury.

I have swum regularly since I was advised to do so by an orthopaedic surgeon when I was 20. Once I learnt more about Aspire, I was determined to use my regular swimming to raise funds for this charity. I swam the Aspire Channel Challenge in 2016 and 2017. In February 2019 I had a hip replacement and that autumn I swam not just 22 miles but 100 miles over the 12 weeks, in pools and a lake.

The Aspire Channel Swim gave me that extra impetus to swim regularly, so much so that I now swim practically every day. The more I swim, the more addicted I have become to swimming!

For a long time, I had wanted to swim outdoors but never quite plucked up the courage to do so. Then, in the summer of 2018, I took the plunge, contacted a local swimming coach (Jason Tait of South West Swim) for advice and began swimming at Lake 86 in the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester. The fresh air makes a pleasant change from always smelling of chlorine!  I love being outdoors with the vegetation, insects, birds and fish all around; it’s peaceful and refreshing. Once I started, I haven’t looked back.

I like swimming outdoors because it’s less pressurised than swimming in the pool. There is far more space and I can stretch out and relax into a steady pace rather than continually turning around every 25 metres. Then my mind is free to wander and sort out the various things I need to deal with at work and in life.

River Arun (2020)

This was my first open water event, recommended by Aspire as their entry level open water swim. As it’s tidally assisted, the first part of the swim very easy indeed. Swimming in salt water also gives you more buoyancy. I was surprised by how much debris there was in the water – reeds, twigs and even tree branches. The water was brown and brackish. I remember feeling quite tired by the end of the swim and relieved to reach the finish.

Sue at the River Arun swim

Solent (2021)

This was my first real sea swim. It was a glorious sunny day and the Solent was extremely busy with boats large and small, fast and slow. I was very grateful for the individual kayaker assigned to each swimmer to guide us safely across. I hadn’t realised until the day how strong the currents would be as the tide changed direction during the swim. I didn’t find it as tiring as the River Arun swim but by then I had been swimming far more miles in the lake to train so I was better prepared. Although I have to say I didn’t particularly enjoy the taste and smell of salt which seemed to permeate my mouth and skin for a day or two afterwards.

Sue on the Isle of Wight after her Solent Swim

Lake Bala (2022)

I loved this swim, although it was cold (12 degrees) and windy (25mph gusts). I wore neoprene socks and gloves as well as a wetsuit for this swim. By the end, my shoulder muscles were getting tired and I was beginning to get cold. The swim had been postponed by 24 hours due to high winds (gusts of 40mph), so we actually swam at 7am, before breakfast. I much prefer swimming in fresh water to salt water. The scenery surrounding this lake in Snowdonia is stunning, although I might be biased because I went to University in Bangor. This swim was organised by my coach, Jason Tait.

Sue swimming in Lake Bala

Henley (2022)

The last two years I have swum the Henley Mile at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival and thought that I could do more, but the only other option at the festival was four miles. So that is what I entered this year. I knew that I could swim 3 miles because that was the distance along the Arun, across the Solent, and Lake Bala. This was only a month after the Lake Bala swim, but I am much fitter now and swim at least a mile most days so thought that would be ok. You swim a mile, clamber out of the river, walk back to the start, and repeat. I was more concerned about clambering out and walking back to the start than I was about swimming. On the day, the river temperature was a very pleasant 20 degrees, but the air was much hotter!  I enjoyed the swims, maintained a consistent speed over all four miles, and found the walks fine – I actually walked the most steps in one day by far since my hip replacement in February 2019. The day after this swim I tested positive for Covid, but I have only had a mild illness.

Sue in her wetsuit at the Henley Swim

My own history of chronic pain and multiple hip operations has given me a particular affinity for anyone struggling with pain and disability so Aspire seemed an obvious charity for me to raise money for by swimming. When I was a young child, being treated for complications around congenital dislocation of the hip, my parents were given the choice between me being referred for specialist treatment to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore or to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford. In the end they chose Oxford because they thought it would be easier to get to from our home. When I was a parish priest in London, I knew the chaplain at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and I covered for her when she went on holiday, so I had actually been there.

My fundraising seems a bit slower this year but is steadily increasing. Most of my sponsored swims have been in September but this year they’ve been in June and July, and I don’t know if that has made a difference. I suspect the current financial pressures on everyone has made a bit of a difference.  As well as asking for donations, I have spoken to (mainly church) groups about why I swim for Aspire and in past years I have been interviewed by BBC Radio Wilts about my swimming. I have also written reflections on swimming and faith.

I think it helps that I’m an Archdeacon in the Church of England and have a public profile. My family, friends and colleagues in the church have been very generous. The previous diocesan communications officer nicknamed me the ‘Aquadeacon’ and that has raised awareness too.

It means a lot to be able to help people with spinal cord injuries whilst also looking after my own health and fitness. There is something special about swimming as people of all abilities can benefit from it.

Sponsor Sue

Swimming events

How we help