I call myself a surfer as I've been surfing on and off for the past 25 years, however, in May 2017 I started sea-swimming.
I have now swum through five winters.
And for those of you just starting out, no, it doesn't get easier, you just know what to expect and what to wear before and after to limit the pain!
On March 16th 2020, I began sea-swimming every day. I didn’t set out to do it every day or for any particular length of time but it became a part of my daily routine, my way of coping through unsettled times.
At the end of January 2021, with ten months of daily swimming under my cossie, I lost my grandma and aunt within the space of two days. This meant I relocated to Yorkshire to be with my mum and at this point I knew I ‘needed’ to swim. There was a local reservoir that Mum, Grandma and I would walk around whenever I visited and so this became my saviour.
I swam in sub five-degree water every day for a month. I swam through snow blizzards, gale force winds and had to break the ice to get in the water on one particular day. It was brutal but it helped numb the pain of overwhelming grief.
On March 15th 2021, somehow I had completed 365 days in just my cossie (and swimming hat). I knew Grandma would have been super proud. She had taken me to Elland baths for swimming lessons with the formidable Mrs Holder for years when I was little. In return, I taught her to swim when I was in my teens. We always had an incredibly close bond. Although she died of Covid, she had Alzheimer’s and so it only seemed right that I should raise money for Alzheimer’s Society. I also raised money for the RNLI.
In the final stages of completing that first year, I felt tired and was looking forward to the challenge ending. There was no way I was going to continue. I was still in the early stages of grief and I knew I needed time to adjust, process, rest. However, it soon became apparent that the only way I could adjust to life without Grandma and process my emotions, was in the ocean. I was calm and things were clearer in there, so, inevitably, I carried on swimming. Every day.
Year Two saw more reservoir swimming (although mostly in the summer this time), quite a few night swims due to working away and not getting back until way after last light, plus some (non-Covid) health issues. Having the unconditional support of my mum and a core group of swim buddies, the Goggles On! crew, without doubt helped me get through that second year. I swam 800 times within those 730 days and had to dig deep on many occasions.
Again, although I told myself and those around me that I would stop after two years, I carried on swimming. I seemed to be the only one surprised by this! In October 2022, I raised money for Surfers Against Sewage in their ‘Dip a Day in October’ challenge and I also finally got Covid. I was devastated, having dodged the bullet since the start of the pandemic. This meant eight days of solo swimming in the harbour, before first light. Being so close to 1000 days, and also committed to raising money for SAS, it was important to me to keep swimming through this period of illness, whilst keeping others safe. It was by far the hardest eight days of the whole challenge.
Julia Claxton Photography
Day 1000 fell on December 10th 2022. I couldn’t quite believe it. Although I now knew, from previous form, I’d carry on past this date, I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach three years, for medical reasons, so this would be my final milestone. Around 40 people came to celebrate and swim with me on that final morning and I was lucky enough to have it documented by @finisterre. The beach was full of positive vibes making for an incredibly special and emotionally charged day.
January 11th 2023 was Day 1032 and I swam for the last time in this open water challenge. The next day, I had surgery. I had been carrying around a large fibroid for almost three years and had suffered with incredibly low iron levels due to ‘Freda the fibroid’ causing heavy prolonged periods. This made me tired, dizzy, short of breath and very cold (not ideal when cold water swimming). I was also the size of an 18-20 week pregnant lady, causing back ache, reflux and simple tasks like putting shoes and socks on, tricky. After having a hysterectomy, I was told ‘Freda’ weighed an incredible 1.7kg! I’m now six weeks into my recovery, feeling much healthier and lighter, and am looking forward to getting back into the sea in the not too distant future.
My JustGiving pages are still open for those who have not yet had the opportunity to donate. So far I have raised a total of £6516: £2749 for RNLI and £3767 for Alzheimer’s Society.