Swimming, and swimming outdoors in particular, gives me a wonderful feeling of wellbeing in mind and body. Coming to the Lido, either for Rio training squad sessions or a lesson with Dan is time out of life, a little window of relaxation where nothing is more important than working on your stroke or your breathing. That’s not to say that swimming doesn’t come with its own trials and tribulations. Learning to swim (again) as an adult has been hard work. An hour of concentrating on my ‘elbow driven recovery’ demands considerable effort, both mental and physical, and the learning curve never seems to level off any. Some lessons I learnt the hard way. I rather rashly signed up to do my first open water swim, a 3k event in early July, without realistically considering either how a rather sedentary winter had impacted on my fitness or quite how different the open water experience would be from pool swimming. Early in the race I started to panic and to struggle with my navigation, the next marker buoy always seemed to be a million miles away. My pacing went awry, I blew what Dan would call my ‘fou fou valve’ and had to get out after completing only half the course. I was distraught – frustrated and embarrassed by my ‘DNF’. it was such a thoroughly miserable experience that I started to wonder if I even liked swimming, but I was nonetheless determined to do better next time, and to be properly prepared. After five more weeks of getting fit and having a laugh with the group, and lots of one-on-one physical and psychological coaching from Dan, I was ready to go for my next event. This time I completed the course with ease, feeling relaxed and enjoying myself. My time didn’t break any records, but I swam the swim I set out to do and was thrilled with my achievement.
I initially chose swimming partly because it was a sport I could do on my own, but one of the unexpected benefits of coming to the Rio Squad sessions is the wonderfully friendly and supportive community I have found myself a part of at the Lido. Being an active member of this group and joining in the fun give me the motivation to drag myself out of bed at 5.30 in the morning to brave the great British summer weather and a sometimes chilly (sorry, ‘invigorating’) pool. The amazing athletes I share the water with sometimes leave me awestruck and painfully aware of my own limitations, but their good company and Dan’s fantastic teaching always leave me feeling encouraged and inspired. And where else can you find ladders called Kevin and enough tasty cake to keep even Mary Berry happy? The Rio Squad might have soggy bottoms but their baking doesn’t.