Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul
To kickstart our new series of interviews, we caught up with Emilie Ricketts to hear all about a challenge she set for herself this year.
Hi Emilie! Tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in Glasbury on Wye; I’m from the area but have worked in different locations around the UK. I currently work in Brecon as a technical manger for a mail order company. The pastimes which I enjoy the most and which make me feel alive are clay pigeon shooting, swimming and the theatre.
You recently undertook a pretty awesome challenge, tell us a bit about it?
In December 2014 I proved to myself, family and friends that I can undertake a physical challenge, by running 10km in a Father Christmas outfit! Knowing that I had the discipline to train, I decided that my next challenge would involve water. In particularly open water swimming. At the time I was capable of no more than a weak breaststroke but thought ‘how hard can it be to learn to swim properly’. So I signed up to swim a mile in Lake Windermere as part of the Great North Swim event and began training.
Wow! That’s quite a challenge! How did you get on with the training?
It turns out that it IS hard and took me several months to develop technique and to build stamina.
Almost immediately I thought I had made a terrible decision, as swimming even half a length of the pool was a challenge. I eventually pushed myself to have a swimming lesson which gave me some confidence. My brother in law, whom was a diving instructor for many years, coached me for another two sessions in the pool. I was then pretty much on my own, swimming as much and as often as I could. As the date of the swim got closer, I knew that I had to get into the open water as I’d read that this was a whole different type of swimming.
But again, “how hard can it be?”. I bought myself a wetsuit and tagged along with my cousin and her fiancé to the Cotswold Water Park. It was the first weekend in April and I, not normally worried about being cold, was almost rigid and barely swam 20 metres! My confidence was crushed as the course at the water park only represented a quarter of the distance which I would need to swim in Lake Windermere, and I couldn’t even make it to the first buoy! My only consolation that day was to be told by a regular open water swimmer that it is completely normal not to be able to swim far on a first attempt.
So back to the pool, where I continued to build on my distance. The nagging memory of my failed open water swim attempt was always at the forefront of my mind. Thankfully, my sister and brother in law could see that my experience had become a huge stumbling block and came up with a terrific solution; to practice in the Wye in Glasbury, with them on hand to support if anything went wrong. My first attempt was a success!
However, I now had a new set of problems. My reflexes were telling me not to put my face in the cold water, and my mind was imagining what could be swimming beneath me or floating past me. I had to really concentrate on and practice zoning out my thoughts and thinking about mundane things to stop my imagination from coming into action, I am pleased to say that it worked.
A couple of weeks before the swim my brother in law would meet me at 6am every morning in Glasbury so I could build up my distance in the river. I finally started to enjoy the swimming and the fact I was not confined to a pool. I also now had some confidence and began to think that I might just be able to complete the challenge I had set myself.
That sounds like quite a journey! How did it go on the day?
The day of the swim arrived and the rain was torrential; this didn’t matter to the swimmers, but I really felt for the spectators and my 16-month-old niece and nephew, who were an integral part of my support team. There were hundreds of people there and while I was waiting for my start time, I looked out at the course and had to suppress panic when I realised I could barely make out the half way point!
My start time was called forward and as we all started the warm up I began to feel an unnerving sense of calm. As the claxon sounded and I waved to my family, I entered the water and realised that there was no turning back, this was it! I soon pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and concentrated on getting to the first buoy, and then the second. As the noise from the shore slowly became quieter, I kept a slow pace as I wasn’t sure of my body’s capability and I wanted to make sure that I crossed the finish line.
There were safety boats and kayakers stationed all around the course which was comforting, but I also felt alone, which was quite exhilarating.
As I reached the half mile point, I realised that I would finish this swim! I kept lifting my head out of the water to simply look around; I saw buildings which could only be seen from the water, people on the banks stopping to watch the swimmers and I realised I was part of something to be proud of.
By this point the wind had picked up and the water had become a bit choppy which was making me feel quite sick. I realised that I had been in the water for quite a while so started to speed up as I remembered my poor family waiting in the rain. The marshals had to assist me out of the water as my legs were like jelly, but I had done it and raised over £800 for the charity Mind.
I celebrated with coffee, cake and a hot shower, followed by a fabulous meal. I wore my medal for the rest of the weekend!
That’s a pretty awesome challenge to finish, It sounds like an amazing experience. Do you have any plans for future challenges?
I would really like to undertake another swimming challenge. I have discovered that swimming has been really good for my mind as well as my physical health, so that is something I would like to continue. The Great Swim has an event in Loch Lomond, so this is one idea, if I can cope with the midges! I am still swimming in the river; I especially enjoy this early in the morning as the only life I see are herons, swans, ducks and the occasional fish.
Do you have any advice for Average Joes looking to take on an outdoor swimming challenge?
As soon as you are comfortable with your technique, get out of the pool and into open water, you really can’t do this soon enough as it is a completely different experience and presents a whole new set of challenges!
We like to finish with a quote that has inspired you. What words to you draw on when things get hard?
My favourite inspirational quote comes courtesy of Eleanor Roosevelt, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan”. (I have had to draw on this several times in the last 12 months!)
If you’d like to check out Emilie’s Fundraising page: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=EmilieRicketts&faId=844224&isTeam=false
Have you got an Inspirational Story? Drop us a line! We’d love to interview you about your adventures!