‘Best’ swim event ever!

I’ve not blogged in a while….(sad face or happy face depending on your opinion).

I’ve been exercising the ‘blog’ muscles by blogging for other people! Yes…I’ve been blogging for the stars!

I felt compelled to write my own again after a swim experience that rivalled all my other fabulous swim experiences (and there have been many).

The back story to the ‘story’ is that I’ve been fascinated by the Best Fest Open Water Swim Festival (in Colonia Sant Jordi, Mallorca) for a few years. Yearning to take part but hamstrung by life’s challenges that prevented me from ever plunging into the azure blue sea of the South East Mallorca Coast.

2018 presented a ‘window of opportunity’ to actually go and be a ‘Best Fest’ swimmer. I debated the logistics long and hard but came to the delicious conclusion that not only could I go (as we were holidaying in the area) but I could also go with my youngest and (gasp) swim in the same event with her.

Now we’ve done this before and I don’t find it easy.

I’m torn between wanting to ‘mother’ her and wanting to drag her into my world of aquatic adventures. Part of me wants to watch her conquer her own open water challenges ( she hates the thought of seeing aquatic life and currently is placated with tales of ‘little fish’ ,as opposed to bigger, more likely to freak out a teenager ones and assurances that ‘they are more scared of you than you are of them’) and part of me wants to experience them myself….it’s a tough gig!

Best Fest offers up a myriad of options for the intrepid open water swimmer enthusiast. Distances from 10Km to 1.5Km in a variety of locations (all stunning), delivered by friendly event organisers whose middle names should be ‘easy going’  as they are so relaxed and chilled.

We plumped for the 220 Triathlon magazine supported, Corberana Challenge 3.8Km which was towards the end of our holiday and perhaps more suited to our mix of abilities (she’s fast, I’m not, she’s fit and I’m far from it) due to the multi-lap nature of the course.

We made the most of the day and the prospect of swimming in the most stunning of locations by lunching in the impossibly glamorous restaurant, Cabine de Plage first. A lunch that awakened the taste buds in the most divine of ways. We gazed at the vista of the Cala Galiota beach and watched the bemused tourists who had picked a seemingly relaxing, sandy spot near the water to lounge on, only to be invaded by a bunch of swimmers and event crew not a mere 5 metres from where they sunbathed.

Within 30 minutes of the event crew arriving we were sporting magic marker numbers on our hands (and arms for the non-wetsuit crew) and joined the melee of (slightly nervous looking) swimmers at the start for the race briefing.

As I was in the ‘non-wetsuit’ category of the 3.8km swim , we were afforded the luxury of starting first and all filed obediently and excitedly into the sea.

For me, ‘skins’ swimming or ‘non-wetsuit’ swimming is a relatively new ‘thing’. I have spent the winter and spring, cursing many a curse, as I experienced the chill of cold water on my bare skin and just swam for the hell of it. Not to be fast but to ‘live’ it. To gasp at the temperature and to savour the afterglow and tingle of the body’s reaction to the cold and the immense sense of well being that comes after.

In a sun warmed Mediterranean sea, I felt that I could confidently have my first stab at some decent distance swimming ‘sans’ wetsuit.

Some swimmers were more eager than others and some shot off and started swimming while many of us were still on the beach. We were soon heading out towards the first buoy and the folly of my choice quickly became apparent. My lack of (any) swim training was soon exposed and boy how I missed the comforting buoyancy of my wetsuit! The swell of the sea was enough to derail my previous confidence and the choppy waters soon sapped my enthusiasm for the 3.8km and I decided that 1.9km was quite enough.

I marvelled at how clear the water was and also hoped that the teenager’s goggles had steamed up so that she could remain blissfully unaware of the marine equivalent of Piccadilly circus going on beneath us.

As I neared the end of the second lap, a hand reached out to grab my foot and held on and gave it a tug. Outraged, I turned to look at my ‘grabber’ and was greeted with a cheery ” Hello Mum”  from the teenager. Laughing at her cheekiness, (she’s lucky I love her because having your foot grabbed by someone is never something that you relish while open water swimming) I set off for shore and awaited her finish.

Within 30 minutes, all swimmers were home, prizes given out, the teenager managed to come 3rd overall and 1st lady home, despite it being her first sea swim event and I managed not to come last, so there were big smiles all round. An amusing ‘lottery’ followed the prize-giving, where you could win freebies from the race sponsor and also from the Best Swim Centre.

It was not long before we were cycling back to our hotel, regaling each other with tales of our individual ‘swims’ and funny stories that had happened while in the water (there’s always a funny story when you do an open water swim….so many variables).

Thanks Best Fest! You were a blast! Cheers to all involved. We are already planning next year’s trip which will definitely involve multiple event choices providing we can find somewhere glamorous to lunch near the start.

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The Portishead Popsicle experience!

Portishead Lido….a place of swimming beauty. A pool first opened in 1962 and recently restored by a community trust. It’s 33.5 metres of open air gorgeousness. A proper deep end (complete with diving boards for the brave), brightly coloured surrounding walls which properly shout “look at me!” and an ‘old school’ vibe that today’s nostalgic types (and hipsters) crave.

I’d been first introduced to the Lido in about 2011 where friends of mine, who lived locally, had joined the community trust, gave up their time to help out and also promptly  dragged their friends along for night time summer swims at the Lido followed by many a boozy get together in the Café attached to the Lido afterwards. These are fond memories…both of my friends and those times but also of the beautiful pool.

Fast forward 6 or so years and I’d joined the Facebook group of the pool and had become fascinated by an event to be held there called the ‘Portishead Popsicle’. This quirkily named, winter swimming gala, boasted of icy cold water and a range of events that included a one length butterfly event, relays and a 1000 metre ‘qualifier’ event.

Qualify for what? I hear you shout (nay scream) at me….

Ice swimming galas of course…..

After spending the previous winter challenging my inner need for personal experiences that are downright hideous ( in this case, swimming in the sea in my bathers throughout the winter) I reckoned that the ‘Popsicle’ was right up my street and promptly entered the 1000 metre event.

How hard can a 1000 metre swim  be right? I was brazenly sure that it was going to be a doddle….

I had factored in a couple of visits to the Lido (after they had turned the heaters off) to acclimatise. I had read about cold water acclimatisation but wasn’t truly sure what it meant.

To me, cold water acclimatisation meant venturing in up to my waist and swearing lots (sorry Mum) until I felt brave enough to immerse the rest of me. This was a tried and tested method which bizarrely seemed to work…except when the water was a bone chillingly baltic or ‘hoora cold’ (nod to Calum Maclean’s guide to cold water swimming temperatures), 4.3 degrees!

Yes, you read that right…4.3 degrees…most swimming pools hover around the 28 degree mark and the average winter UK sea temperature is around the 8 degree mark.

My coping strategies (for cold water swimming) consisted of the wearing of uber fetching and glamorous neoprene gloves and neoprene socks so I reckoned that I would be fine in sub 5 degree water….until that is, I arrived at the venue on the day of the event.

I had gone there on my own thinking that I would just rock up….do the event and saunter home. Upon arrival I was greeted with a sea of very confident folk, mostly clad in dryrobes (thank goodness I had taken mine). They all seemed to know each other and I have to be honest I was (for the first time) more than a little scared. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I was chatting to some fellow Welsh folk. They had a swim group called ‘The Dippy Dragons’ and regularly participated in ice swimming events and one of the group had been recently featured in a flurry of social media posts after swimming in a very cold Welsh pond at the top of a very cold Welsh mountain when there was snow on the ground!

I spent the next few hours or so marvelling at the  brave souls doing the ice butterfly event and the relays and the 300 metres and so on and so forth. The relays were a particular delight to behold, mainly because of the creativity of the hats! There was apparently a prize for the best ones which definitely justified the effort that some had gone to! All this was great fun but I seemed to get more and more nervous as time went on.

Before long it was time for my event. I’m a great believer in the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ strategy, so sauntered to the start line with a strut that was reminiscent of Debbie Harry in the Blondie ‘Rapture’ video.

We had some ‘pre event’ instructions that I’m not sure that I took in all that well but I think included some safety necessities. It was a quick shoulder submerge and then we were off. I shared the lane with a smiley chap called Geoff and we both set off  on our 1000 metre cold water quest like two rats up the proverbial drainpipe.

It’s fair to say that Geoff’s ‘rat up a drainpipe’ impression was infinitely more effective than mine as it wasn’t long before I was lapped and I seemed to be swimming slower and slower. Cold water swimming does strange things to your swim ability if relatively inexperienced and I seemed to be swimming through treacle at the half way mark.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the smiley volunteers announced that I was done and before you could say ‘Popsicle’, I was out of the water and enveloped in my trusty dryrobe. It was from there, a quick sprint to the changing room before the dreaded ‘afterdrop’ hit ( the body’s reaction to prolonged cooling of the core after cold water swimming). I’d worked out that I have about 10-15 minutes to get changed into warm stuff before the uncontrollable shivering starts.

On this occasion. ‘afterdrop’ hit when I was changed into snuggly stuff and about to purchase the well earned post-event hot chocolate. It was mildly amusing to try and fish change out of my purse with wildly shaking hands whilst cheerily adding ” I think I might need a lid with that” to the good natured ladies manning the kiosk. Without a lid, the contents of my drink would be no longer contained within its polystyrene walls.

The ‘afterdrop’ had hit me significantly enough to realise that my next destination should be the post-event warming room and I spent the next hour in there being looked after by the cheeriest volunteers who brought me more delicious hot chocolate to drink and a most welcome hot water bottle until the shivering subsided.

It turns out that the wearing of my neoprene gloves and socks had classified me as ‘wearing a wetsuit’ (ice swimming rules), so my ‘qualifying’ foray in to the world of ice swimming was short lived……Neoprene =no qualification. On a positive note,….,,I ‘won’ the wetsuit category and hey…a win is a win right?

So,…on the subject of winter swimming galas, I am most definitely a fan…Portishead Popsicle was a delight…an absolutely bloody freezing delight but a delight all the same. Well done to the event team….you were all simply marvellous, I’ll hopefully be back next year to defend my ‘wetsuit winner’ crown!

Dear Swimming…

Dear Swimming,

Here’s the thing….I love you…

There. I said it! 

You enthralled me from an early age and I was in awe of you! 

I spent hours and hours of practice as a child just so I could be as good as you thought I could be. 

You made me laugh…you made me cry…you made me experience such good times with my team mates, that looking back,  I can’t believe they happened.

But then…

We broke up…

It wasn’t you it was me…

I wanted more.

I wanted to not look at that black line first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I wanted my perfume to be something different other than ‘Eau de Chlorine’. 

We didn’t see each other for such a long time.

But then….

Something happened…

Someone suggested that I might enjoy a triathlon …’it would be a good challenge’ they said. 

I became curious about you again….wondered what you were up to and whether I had room in my life for you and whether you could help me again.

We met for lunch, at first, once in a blue moon and then, more frequently. Before work, after work. I didn’t introduce my kids to you at first as I didn’t think they’d ‘get’ you. My son was more aloof but my daughter embraced you. 

Before I knew it we were having trips away again. My adult friends came too as they had met you before and knew how much fun you could be.

We escaped from Alcatraz, swam round islands, swooshed down rivers, fought jellyfish, huge waves, rocks and much more…….All because of you.

Nowadays we still have adventures….you still make me smile….make my friends and I share special times together. 

You help me enjoy and support other people’s children in getting to know you, let me watch my daughter turn into a fearless creature who can cope with all sorts of things that life throws at her because of you.

 You help me meet so many people outside of my usual network that amaze me and you now gently guide me through adulthood feeling like I can take on the world.

Swimming….I love you and I always will!

Tenfoot Adventuring

“Tenby…..Saundersfoot…Pembrokeshire….sea swimming….mini road trip with my swim family….summer? I’m in!” was my reaction when I first heard of the curiously named Tenfoot swim event.

Why Tenfoot? Seemingly obvious to most but maybe not all folk but basically you get to swim from Tenby to Saundersfoot!  I absolutely love sea swimming in Pembrokeshire…beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, friendly locals and only about 2 hours drive from where I live, so I manage to get there at least seven or eight times a year, swim parent commitment and work permitting.

The Tenfoot swim was an inaugural event for a very good cause (raising money for two local charities) devised by locals who knew that the endurance sport community just might be tempted by it. Set originally in June but moved to July, it seemed perfect prep for some of the endurance swims I have planned for later in the year. Also, for me, it is very rare that you get to venture around some of the points of the beaches in Pembrokeshire due to very strong currents and shipping traffic so this event was a ‘must do’.

All my ideas of ‘training’ had gone out of the window due to dithering for an age about re-joining the local masters swimming club (I’d managed about 4 sessions prior to the swim). I had also managed a couple of open water jaunts but that was about it. One of those ‘jaunts’ had been the Long Course Weekend swim the week before but laziness had got the better of me on the day and I’d dropped down to the 2Km distance rather than the 4Km, preferring an earlier visit to the pub over another lap jostling with wannabe ironfolk.

I lined up on the beach for the Tenfoot swim with Lady Doubt playing her finest song in my mind along the lines of  “You should have done the long distance last week, what were you thinking?…. You know you’re not fit enough to run 5Km let alone swim it!… Oh my god everyone looks really fit…. I’m going to drown or get stung by a thousand jellyfish (more on that later)…. Gosh there are more ironman bags and ironman finishers tattoos than you can shake a stick at….. Hope I’ve put enough BodyGlide on…don’t want to look like a 46 year old lovebite victim in work on Monday….God that looks like a really long way and all of a sudden that sea looks really choppy” etc etc etc.

We had a quick group picture before the start. The talented local photographer somehow managed to make the rain and the grey murkiness of the water disappear in his finished image.

group pic

Then we were off….

Less frenzied than a week earlier with the ironfolk and as everyone had their swim floats (essential to be able to swim the event, a visibility aid that helps spot a swimmer’s whereabouts in the water), so you could see where people were around you. I’ve never swum in an event where these were compulsory before but I’m definitely a fan as you could spot everyone really easily.

Everyone quickly seemed to settle into a nice rhythm…everyone that is except me….Lady Doubt had done for any confidence I had gained from the week before and I started to have a little boxing match with my swim float as the water got choppier.

I think, if I’d tried it the night before, I might have realised the leash was a bit short and used the longer one from my other float but no…Captain Cocky had visited and I had brought with me a brand new float that was still in the packet which had a leash that was a bit too short for my swim style.

Twenty minutes went by and the accompanying bobbing bits of neon inflatables (attached to other swimmers) had thinned out. God, was I last? Then I started panicking about cut off times ( you had to get to the check point within two hours or the tide would prevent you from safely continuing). People who know me will be aware of my fear of cut off times but basically after a double Ironman Wales DNF due to cut off time failure, I try not to do events with them if at all possible.

Panic set in as the rain set in…I did NOT want a DNF in a swim event….I might be a bit rubbish at cycling but swimming is kind of ‘my thing’…even with no training I can ‘do’ endurance swim events. I tried to calm my rising panic with some positive thoughts. My positive thoughts were the recent experience of going to see Coldplay in concert so singing ‘Paradise’ in my head was my chosen method of inducing calm (don’t judge).

“Para-Para-Paradise…Para-Para-oh shit there’s a mahoosive jellyfish-Paradise…”

God! Jellyfish! There were hundreds! More than I’ve ever seen when I’ve been swimming in Pembrokeshire and they were quite close to the surface. Positive thinking attempted again by going ‘oh wow they are really beautiful’ many many times in my head. I’d never been stung by one, so my fear was largely irrational but every time I see one I tend to let out an involuntary squeak of fear. Anyway, on I plodded… but I could see the check point beach (Monkstone) and after what seemed like the length of a double omnibus edition of EastEnders, I was moving swiftly towards it. I had chatted briefly to a fellow swimmer who seemed to be having similar struggles to me with the choppy water and weirdly she had the same wetsuit as me, the same pink float, her name began with a K (Karen) and we were both not overly fussed on coming last….I had a swim buddy!

Karen and I swam enthusiastically to the shore, gliding past Mr and Mrs jellyfish and their extended family and then the worst happened…..Brian Jellyfish who clearly hadn’t had a date in weeks, moved in for a snog!

OUCH! Imagine rubbing a big clump of stinging nettles across your lips and chin over and over again and you might just understand what I was feeling at that very moment! OMG…so painful…

I indicated my plight to a passing kayaker who promptly got his camera out to take a picture. “Did you just take a picture of me?” I demanded laughing…

“Yes” he said, “I wanted to get a shot of the lady that got stung on the mouth by a jellyfish!” Much guffawing ensued (from him and me) and with that my feet seemed to miraculously find dry land and I staggered like a Saturday night drunkard towards the checkpoint table.

Safely checked in, jellybabies consumed, funny chat with the clearly amused medic on the beach about my sting, ” you can have some vinegar to rub on it if you want?” said he…..”Errrmm…no ta” said I, and I stoically plunged back into the water towards some fierce looking rocks that were the next part of the challenge and the reason the time cut offs were in place.

rocks

The brilliant water safety team guided us safely through the fierce rocks and the sheer exhilaration of doing that helped me channel my inner Bond girl……after all, I now had the ‘trout pout’ to go with it! The ensuing endorphin rush helped me rediscover my swimming ability and, safely buddied up with Karen again, we seemed to cut through the water towards Saunderfoot beach like a pair of dolphins, albeit dolphins with neon pink rubber tails, but you get the idea.

One minor setback in that we (unwisely) asked a kayaker how far we had left and he said half a kilometre…well he fibbed….that’s all I’m saying on the matter. Setback overcome and we felt the familiar squidge of sand beneath our feet as we got to the shore and we realised we had made it….Karen and I hugged, muttered thanks to each other and wandered off to find our people.

My people, my little swim family, were both on the beach waiting for me, both looking suspiciously like they had been there so long they’d had time to blow dry their hair. I regaled them with tales of my jellyfish snog and they helpfully pointed out that they thought the stingy part of a jellyfish was it’s genitalia (no idea if this is true but I’m definitely not googling it).

Coffee was swiftly bought, food and ibuprofen (for the sting) promptly ingested and we were soon winging our way back to the ‘Diff, laughing about the day and marvelling at our most excellent day out.

Thanks Tenfoot Swim Crew…You were epic and so was that swim! Chapeau and thanks very much from all of us!

One Love

Compelled to put virtual pen to virtual paper by the events of the last two weeks….The closing notes of the One Love Manchester concert are playing out and I’ve been transfixed by the sheer dogged determination of the British public and the raw human emotion played out in the public domain.

I must admit, I clutched my 14 year old, music loving daughter close to me, closer than her teenage attitude would have liked, upon hearing about the Manchester bombing. It could have been her…it could have been us…

It wasn’t. Thank god it wasn’t. 

These thoughts of relief that it wasn’t us turned to sympathy for the parents that had let their teenagers out that night…trusting, fearing, knowing that allowing them that exciting night out, seeing one of their pop idols, is part of growing up and having that decision flung back at them in the worst possible way. I’ve shed many a tear, listening to the news reports about the people who had either made that decision and had to now live with the terrible consequence or had made that decision and had been killed as they went to pick up their children from the event…..heartbreaking.

Britain has watched the One Love concert less than 24 hours after 7 more people lost their lives in London. Seven more innocents, joyfully careering through their life, only to lose that precious life at the hands of deranged, radicalised extremists, hanging their barbaric senseless acts on the mantle of a peace loving religion trying to stir up hate and fear.

Sadiq Khan, Lord Mayor of London, urged citizens to not be alarmed by the increased security and to calmly go about their business, as doing so sends that all important message to would be terrorists….we are not afraid! He also delivered the most amazing put down to some orange skinned, comedy haired buffoon in America after said buffoon tried to insinuate that Khan’s words and actions were not appropriate….well played Mr Khan, well played!

Where do we go from here?

 We tell our loved ones that we love them, we live our lives, we refuse to let hate win, we encourage our children to grab every joyful moment in life without fear….it’s the only way. Doing so honours the lives of the slaughtered innocents, celebrates their existence. We rejoice in tonight’s footage of the dancing policeman, we applaud Ariana Grande’s handling of the situation, we admire the ‘have a go heroes’ of the two incidents and secretly hope that we might be that brave in the same circumstances.

Somewhere over the Rainbow closed tonight’s emotional performance…so very apt…especially this verse….

Someday I’ll wish upon a star

Wake up where the clouds are far behind me

Where trouble melts like lemon drops

High above the chimney top

That’s where you’ll find me

Oh, somewhere over the rainbow, way up high

And the dream that you dare to, why oh why can’t I?
I am so proud to live in Britain right now….I love seeing the defiance, the humour ( response to the NY Times ‘reeling’ comment? Hilarious), people choosing life not fear, love not hate, making joy the antidote to pain.

One Love….and all that it now stands for…..I salute you!

Mind Over Marathon

I’m writing this after just removing the two quite sad looking pieces of (wilted) cucumber from my eyes and nursing a cool crisp glass of sauvignon blanc (medicinal purposes),

“What’s wrong?” I hear you cry…….

Well, I’ve just blubbed my way through watching two episodes of Mind over Marathon (BBC’s quite excellent programme about 10 fabulous folk signing up to run the 2017 London Marathon).

For those that didn’t see it then for goodness sake download it, explore catch up TV, whatever, however, whenever you do it… just watch it!

A tale of strength, of triumph, of togetherness and a tale of raw human emotion where the bravest people, bared their souls for this piece of TV magic.

Why did it touch me?….It touched me because yet again…..people challenging themselves in physical feats and winning, succeeding, overcoming, makes me gasp in admiration.

I am a social media addict because I love to witness these events in people’s lives……Who could fail to be moved by the sight of Matthew Rees helping David Wyeth over the finish line after David had hit ‘the wall’, 200 yds from the finish of the London marathon. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were alive with positivity after the event on Sunday. Matthew was amazingly humble after the event but the publicity helped David smash his fundraising goal for a very personal cause.

I love watching the London marathon every year for this very reason and have been lucky enough to have been fit enough and well enough to have run London twice. It really is a ‘must do’ event for those who love physical challenges to get their kicks.

On the two occasions that I did it ( the first time was after a particularly difficult relationship breakdown and the second time was because I’d been jammy enough to get through the ballot lottery), I bored my loved ones to tears about the training, the kit selection (true story), the time I was going to complete it in and lots of other equally mundane trivialities…..to all that endured that and still speak to me, I love you and you are the best!

Running the London Marathon is magical. I have run other ‘big city’ marathons but in truth, nothing comes close to London for it’s sense of occasion and pomp and ceremony (Sorry Brighton!). Maybe it’s because you run past the Queen’s gaff….who knows?

However, sense of occasion aside, running 26.2 miles is the epitome in any ‘Joe Bloggs’ runners goals. Once I’d achieved it in as fast a time as I thought I was ever going to run it, then I decided that fancy dress was the way forward. I have tried one dressed as Supergirl (good for the attention seeker), and also one dressed as a lobster (good for getting interviewed by Channel 4). I have also tested out running as a giant foot (good for …..ummmm….I’ll maybe get back to this later)….but however you attempt it, if you attempt it….you are a rock star for even thinking about it because it is HARD!

So to those who are contemplating signing up for one, dreading supporting a loved one through training for one, currently hating the prep involved in doing their first one…..keep the faith…..this shit is worth it!

 

Until the next time………

 

 

This post is dedicated to Steve, Claudia, Sheerece, Georgie, Rhian, Sam, Poppy, Jake, Paul and Mel. #MindOverMarathon

Nighttime in the city.

Finally to bed.
Long day.
Bed is a welcoming envelope of freshly laundered sheets.
Sleep is slow to arrive.
Night city noise (white noise).
An urban fox screams like a petrified woman somewhere not far away….hear this and fail to get a chill down the spine? I challenge you!
A siren wails away in the distance…hate that sound…
The central heating system whirrs as the temperature drops slightly.
I’m lucky…safe and warm.

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

“Goodbye?…oh no please. Can’t we go back to page one and do it all over again?”
Winnie the Pooh

“I didn’t get to say goodbye” is a sentence I’ve heard time and time again from The Teenager over the last few days in the aftermath of the untimely passing of one of life’s true definition of ‘ one of a kind’, Keith Bewley, at the age of 69. Keith was my daughter’s swimming coach at City of Cardiff Swimming Club (CCSC) and such a pivotal person in our lives as anyone involved in the world of competitive swimming will understand.

Keith’s reputation as a coach was legendary and spanned a 40 year career as a coach preceded by a successful Commonwealth Games medal winning swimming career. His coaching career produced many Olympians and National champions but he’d never tell you that himself…he referred to an Olympic medal winning swimmer as “someone I used to coach a few years ago”. It was this quality that endeared him to many.

I first met Keith when I was a newbie CCSC committee member and we (the committee and coaching staff) had gone out on a social evening. I sat opposite him and got a small taste of the meaning of life according to Keith Bewley which was wonderfully no nonsense and frequently hilarious. Back then, he could never remember my name or that of one of the other parent volunteers called Nerys, so just used to call us both ‘Cerys’ as he didn’t know which one of us was which. It was and still is, a source of much mirth for Nerys and I.

What has become apparent over the last few days is that lots and lots of people have a ‘Keith’ story. These stories have been fondly retold by way of coping with the ‘miss’ that is left behind in his absence.

In the last 16 months or so, many of my Saturday mornings have revolved around ensuring Keith’s coffee requirements were catered for. Saturday mornings are tough for CCSC coaches as they coach multiple squads from very early in the morning through to lunchtime without a break. I’m lucky in my job to be able to grab refreshments in-between patients, but not so in the life of a swimming coach. Keith always seemed to really appreciate the gesture and would often text his order from the poolside.

My daughter is bereft. Asking me questions such as ‘How am I going to swim without Keith?’ and I don’t have the answers. I’m sure that the resilience of youth will play a part in resolving this.

The phrase, ‘he meant so much to so many’ is definitely true of Keith. The outpouring of fond words on social media sites since his passing is tantamount to this. From people that worked, still work, were coached and are still coached by Keith to the 6am Cardiff International Pool adult swimmers and triathletes (Keith would always exchange a bit of banter about silly tan lines or offering swim sets for people to do). Obviously Keith’s family will feel his loss the most but his swimming family are distraught and in shock.

There are lots of things that we will miss in the coming days and months. I’ll miss the hilarious military style response to texts and emails (‘Copy that’ or ‘Roger that’), and we’ll miss chatting on the way home from swimming about today’s ‘Keithisms’.
Swimmer-“Can we do something fun now Keith?”
Keith- “How about 8 X 200 fly?”
There was always something to smile about.

This week’s sadness has reminded me of a Mandela quote that sums up the impact that Keith has had on so many people perfectly….

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Goodbye Keith and thank you from all of us.

The Scarf

Fundraising….never easy, but in today’s world, it is an exercise that many undertake for a variety of reasons. Personally,  I’ve participated in fundraising for all sorts of causes..I’ve baked, I’ve cycled, I’ve run, I’ve walked, I’ve not talked (hard), I’ve swum and now I have a new activity to add to my collection of fundraising shenanigans…..knitting!

Knitting doesn’t sound very challenging. Especially in direct comparison to my friends’ recent heroics. They’ve been doing double ironman triathlons, 200 mile cycle rides, mountainous walks after finishing chemotherapy and desert marathons to name but a few….all popping up in my social media feed.Its been exhausting just reading about it.

So why knitting and what for?

I’ve written before about my daughters love of swimming and as part of her club’s activities, the swimmers get the opportunity to compete at competitions on the continent. Swimming can be an expensive sport and in order to try and soften the blow of additional expense,the club actively encourages the families involved in the trips to fundraise to support it. Usually the swimmers undertake a sponsored swim or bag pack at supermarkets, but both activities had been met this time with muted enthusiasm. To be honest, every time I see children from sports clubs at supermarket checkouts, I am overcome with an assault from my inner control freak and start to break out in a sweat. I chuck them some change (to minimise embarrassment …how quintessentially British!) and do it myself.

So what could we do to raise some funds that would generate a bit of fun along with extra cash?
There were lots of suggestions made by myself and other parents….some of them verging on the sublime (but impractical) and others definitely fell on the side of the ridiculous….
Back to the knitting….I knit like a child…a five year old child with a short attention span. At the time of the search for fundraising ideas, I had recently picked it up again to resume my attempt to make the world’s most hideous patchwork blanket. I had taken my efforts to training one evening to while away the time, and had sat alongside another parent who was famous for her knitting skills. Perhaps I had sat there hoping to absorb some of her skills by osmosis ( I’m kidding….I know osmosis doesn’t quite work like that)? However, as if by magic, I was struck by some form of inspiration. 

Why not knit a scarf?

Funds could be raised by a form of ‘guess the length of the scarf’? competition.
I suggested this to the Goddess of knitting and ‘The Scarf’ was born.
One quick email later and soon the Cardiff Swimming club family began to fill my email inbox with the names of those who were willing to knit some of ‘The Scarf’.

All of the willing knitters were of the female variety and the menfolk of Cardiff Swimming had viewed all of this knitting with a small amount of (good natured) disdain. Offers to teach them how to do it were met with loud guffaws and cries of “I couldn’t possibly”. That is until the Head Coach knitted some anyway. Even my new colleagues in my new job pitched in and are responsible for at least 7 metres of ‘The Scarf’. I am immensely touched by the fact that they wanted to have a go to help with the CCSC knitting challenge.

After 6 weeks of knitting, dozens of balls of wool, many social media plugs and much hilarity, we have what is possibly going to be the biggest scarf I have ever seen in my life. From small acorns (the idea), grows a mighty oak ( the scarf). You didn’t have to be good at it, you just had to have a go.

What it has also brought with it, is a real sense of community to the club. I have spoken to more people at the club in the last 6 weeks than I have in the 3 years and it is just great. The sewing together of all the individually knitted pieces has commenced and it is being done with the same humour, the same warmth and a real sense of togetherness. Long may it continue!

Chapeau everyone!

“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together”-James Cash Penny

  

Gala day

Phew…
….approximately 35 hours spent sitting by a swimming pool (spread over two weekends) for about 20 minutes of racing.
It would be less minutes of racing if my child didn’t like endurance events. That’s what you get when your child gets into swimming…in a big way…

I can hear you all rushing to sign your child up to the local ‘learn to swim’ programme after that inspiring description of my activities over the last two weekends.
Why do we do it (I hear you ask, nay, scream at me)?

Because at some point in the ‘learn to swim’ plan, your child gets good at it.

Now I don’t know at this point whether my daughter will make her love of her sport into a career but I also don’t know that she won’t….now there’s a dilemma….
To support your child in pursuing any sport takes dedication, from them of course, but mostly from you.
For the parent of a swimmer this means taking your child training at an ungodly hour of the morning and also being back at the same pool in the evening, thus, sacrificing your normal sleep patterns and your social life in one fell swoop.
It also means weekends lost at galas in seriously anti-social conditions. Unbearably hot pool environments, cramped uncomfortable plastic seating, lots and lots of noise and many many hours sacrificed to the cause of your child getting a PB (personal best time- for those not in the know) and if they are lucky they might get a medal too.

Personally, I’ve found a way to cope at these events…I try not to sit too close to the very shouty parents ( I get it, it’s their way of coping with their nerves in wanting their child to do well) I take my running kit or some work to do, I dress as though I’m going on a summer holiday ( flip flops in February anyone?) and I try and boost my extremely nervous, self doubting child’s confidence whenever I get the chance.

The thing is, despite her nerves and her lack of confidence, my daughter is gaining tremendously from being part of this crazy world. The galas have gradually helped her believe in what her young body can do. The chase of the elusive PB’s makes her want to work hard in training so she can be the very best that she can be. She understands that to succeed in this, you need to put the hours in, to listen to her coaches and to always want to improve.
For me, that is the reward that the dedication brings. The life lessons.

Over the two weekends, I would say she exceeded her expectations, but for me, the ultimate success came when at the very end of the two weekends, she swum one of her favourite events.
She swam like a dream, won her heat, achieved her desired qualifying time and a massive 6 second PB….and then promptly got disqualified!

The way she dealt with that very obvious and keenly felt disappointment made my heart burst with pride. There were no histrionics, not many tears and by the time our 20 minute car journey home had been completed she’d announced that it was all fine and she’d “build a bridge and get over it”.
Gulp….
I’m not sure I’d have been so strong about it.

So there we have it….there is the reason why we’ll be at the next event, and probably the one after that, and the one after that, for as long as she wants to. These sort of situations are, to use the cliche, character building.
They are helping teach my shy, nervous daughter that she can handle some pretty tough situations incredibly well on her own thank you very much which helps build her confidence for things that life may throw at her.

Until the next time….