Dividing up Swim22 between us – how bad can it be? – by Gemma Jackson

One day in January 2017. In the office: Taunton.

It’s the new year and our new Regional Media Officer, for the South West Susannah Hickling, has had a brain wave. ‘Why don’t we all do Swim 22? Come on ladies, we can get fit and lead by example, raising money for charity and working of the excesses of festive session.’ She is of course right and we all agree that as a team, we can swim our share of the 22 miles. Divided up between us, how bad can it be?

This is quickly followed by a photo shoot in our swim suits, a radio interview, coverage in 2 local news papers and an online just giving page.

Our packs also arrive in the post, with a hat, a record sheet and much needed advice.

So it’s about time I get acquainted with my local pool then…

Friday 10 February: a swimming pool, Taunton.

This is the first dip of my big toe in a swimming pool since I was 15, and it’s surprisingly warm. Going on the memory of agonising swimming lessons at school, I have memories of being very cold in the water and exceptionally cold out of it.

I wonder if it is like riding a bike and you never forget, if I’ll take to the water like a swan or sink like a stone. Reassured by the nicely tepid temperature, I take some time to test if I really do still float and that my new, and embarrassingly bug-like goggles, really are waterproof. Both are fine so now there’s no excuse; I do just have to get on with it.

My first few lengths of front crawl are frankly embarrassing. I flap about and struggle to regulate my breathing, trying to work out if I need air every two, three or four lifts of my arm. I don’t even hit my stride when I’m totally scuppered, lifting my head out of the water only to get a mouthful of wave created by an overtaking merman. This leaves me with a bellyful of water and snarling like a drowning pug.

It’s time for a breather. I stop at the side of the pool for a break when a nice man starts to make conversation:

‘Excuse me love, don’t take this the wrong way, but this is the fast lane, the slow lane is over there’.

‘Oh. Thanks.’ I then realise without my glasses I can’t see a thing, especially the huge red ‘Fast Lane’ sign. I make my apologies and slink unceremoniously under the lane divider to my rightful place, dominated by a large, red ‘Slow Lane’ sign that is now impossible to miss.

20 lengths in and I start to struggle with the hat and bug goggles combo and it feels like my head is being squeezed in a vice. I also struggle with attacks of cramp in my toes, so at 30 lengths my body is telling me I’ve done enough for my first visit in 15 years.

Back in the changing room, after a lovely hot shower, it does start to feel just a little chilly…

Saturday 18 February. A swimming pool, Taunton.

This is my second go and at least now I know which lane I should be in.

Ten lengths in and I’m still struggling with my front crawl and a nice man gives me some tips. When I lift my head out of the water, it’s to the side and too high, making my legs go down and lose buoyancy. I need to lift my head out of the water and look directly behind me. I give this a go but end up with water filling my ears, and the big cavity in between.

Maybe I just don’t get on with front crawl, so I convert to breast stroke instead. This feels slower but is actually more enjoyable, although I’m going straight home to get tips off a well-known video website.

I also decided to leave my swimming hat hung up at home due to last week’s hat/goggles/head-in-a-vice combo. Big mistake. This means my hair that has been freely flowing through the water is now knotted into the back end of a bird’s nest. It takes a whole bottle of conditioner, half an hour of patience and a paddle brush to rescue.

While walking home my head is still full of water, my ears making that rumbling full-of-water sound that makes you instinctively boggy like a head banger until it’s all shook out…

(March update)
So far, I’ve done 60 lengths of the 33 metre pool so a few to go before my five mile target (around 300 lengths).

Team approach – the Diabetes UK swimmers, from left, Paula Wilson (Regional Support Officer), me, Annika Palmer, Influencing Manager Devon and Cornwall, Phaedra Perry, Regional Head and Susannah Hickling, Regional Media Officer

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