Sometime in the murky depths of February I saw a sponsored post from Diabetes UK on Facebook. Swim the Channel, it proclaimed. In the comfort of your local pool! Raise money! Being a Type 2 diabetic myself, and with my daughter Zoe a Type 1 since she was 9, I was sufficiently curious to click on the link. I scrolled through the page and something inside me was ignited. At the same time the nasty little imp inside my head started laughing. “Swim the channel?” he asked “You? Hahahahaha!” For once I found enough courage to drown him out with positivity and carried on reading.
Before the imp could recover and start harassing me again, I signed up, just for half the distance. I could manage 11 miles I told myself. Swimming is easy, I will lose weight, my blood sugar will stabilize, and I will raise £200 for the charity. It will be wonderful, I need to exercise, I can do this!
Further spurred on by a conversation and a donation from Chris Evans on Virgin Radio I upped my game.
Fast forward about 3 months. On Sunday I swam into Calais and stumbled up the beach to reward myself with a croissant. 22 miles and over £1000 raised for the charity that is so close to my heart.
Am I proud of myself? You bet I am. I can honestly say that this is both the worst and the best thing that I have EVER done.
I knew that physically this would be hard. I am 60 years old, overweight, diabetic, totally unfit with little or no core strength in my body. I had some major expectations of my marathon swim. I believed I would lose a lot of weight. I believed that my diabetic blood sugar readings would drop to a healthier level. I believed it would get easier. In reality, I did drop a dress size, but I didn’t lose weight. My blood sugar readings were all over the place, not helped by the fact that I was really hungry most of the time! I think that perhaps my body was somewhat confused by a regular and consistent exercise routine and it just could not figure out when I needed glucose to keep my muscles going! I also hurt. At every point one of those muscles ached. My back, my knees, even my elbows! My skin shriveled and I broke out in spots. My feet were dry and cracked. A whiff of chlorine followed me wherever I went. As for my hair…where did I put my wig?
But at the end of the challenge I do feel better. I can walk further and faster than before I started, and I don’t get breathless.
What I was not prepared for was the effect of the challenge on my mental and emotional health.
The first day that I got into the pool I aimed for swimming 10 lengths. I managed 20 with several rest stops. At that point I figured out how many lengths I would have to swim to reach 11 miles if I only swam 20 lengths each swim. Just about doable I thought.
By the end of the swim I was routinely swimming a minimum of 34 lengths (1/2 mile) per session with only one or two short pauses. A couple of times I managed a whole mile!
I discovered a determination and a resilience that I really did not know I had in me. Even on the days when I just did not want to get in the water, I dragged my sorry arse to the pool and got in. I persevered despite several incidents of swimming snobbery. On one occasion I was told that I was too slow for the slow lane! She was probably right.
But. I showed up, gritted my teeth and just did it. Kept doing it.
I also reconnected mentally with my body. It likes to be exercised. My physical wellbeing connects with my mental wellbeing. It feels good (apart from the chlorine!)
My husband Nigel came with me every Sunday and I was so grateful, but the rest of the time I was pretty much alone with my thoughts and there were days when I just knew that I did not have a hope in hell of ever reaching France. Those days were the hardest and I remember one day just crying all the way and getting out of the pool with barely enough energy to dry myself. But I dug deep, learned to focus and just kept going.
Time and again I convinced myself that I would not finish the challenge. That I was not strong enough, or good enough to finish. But I was spurred on by my team of cheerleaders on Facebook who responded to every Facebook Live with words of encouragement and who sponsored me and kept me going. There was also an incredibly supportive Facebook group where people cheered each other on and shared their up and downs. I also had the support of a couple of lifeguards at the pool who cheered me on when they were working.
Thank you to EVERYONE who helped me reach my goals. I could not have done it without you all.
To wrap up, here are some of the things I have learned from this grand adventure.
- Start with one length, one step, one breath
- If you think you can’t, you won’t
- If you need support, ask for it, there is always someone willing to help
- Remember your underwear
- Moisturise, and stay hydrated!
- Laugh at yourself…often
- Never underestimate yourself, you are amazing!
- Enjoy the croissant!
This challenge has made me stronger, braver, happier. The lessons I have learned have changed me. They will make me a better human being. A better coach.
Will I do it again? Well, once I have taken a brief break from the chlorine, I will continue swimming a couple of times a week, and I am planning some other exercise. But swimming the channel? I’m not sure. Ask me next February!
If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to donate, the fundraising page is open until 22 June 2019
Penny is a life coach living in Morecambe in Lancashire. Her business is Corner House Coaching.
She works with clients right across the UK. If you would like to know more, or simply stay in touch here are her details
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Thank you for reading x