“We’d better not swim for a bit”, came the text from one of my swim tribe. Coming just hours after our latest foray into the silky, silty waters of Jackson’s Bay, this hit me like a sucker punch. Our swim experience had been tainted. The country was in fear mode and swimming outside (even socially distanced swims) seemed wrong.
This was a whole 24 hours before the announcement was made that we were in lockdown.
I had attended a meeting a week prior (I work in healthcare) that had indicated that the potential ramifications of COVID-19 were not likely to be short-lived. My heart pounded when the announcement came. I immediately experienced a base set of emotions that were mainly fear, sadness and surprise at what it might mean for me and my family.
I am a swimmer. My daughter is a swimmer. Our lives revolve around swimming….it is our ‘raison d’etre’.
What I didn’t appreciate, at that point was the other personal challenges (other than not swimming) that were to come. Missing my first-born’s birthday for the first time in 23 years (he doesn’t live with me), not seeing my mum and my daughter not being able to see her beloved Nana ( they seem joined at the hip those two) when she normally visits us daily (she has a health condition so is shielding herself). I recognise that these are minor compared to the heart-breaking tragedies that have occurred around the UK and the world because of this virus but it was gut-wrenching for us.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was how much my watery exploits, had become the glue that had kept my emotional and physical well-being together. The mainstay of how I achieve a handle on what is a relatively stressful working life. To suddenly not have it and to also be concerned about the effect that ‘dry-dock’ would have on my swimmer teenager, was overwhelming at first.
We coped, we channelled our energies into other forms of exercise and subsequently became Strava geeks, comparing the distances covered in our various activities and laughing at how the swimmer divide that we have in our respective abilities, was also true of running and cycling.
Social media was full of ‘miss’. The outdoor swimming community was also struggling. My feed was full of swimmers showing past pictures of swims gone by and then coping strategies such as paddling pools in the garden with multiple pictures of swimmers tied to fences and garden gates ‘swimming’.
This was the first time I felt a glimmer of the ‘sucks to be you’ emotion that seems to have become more powerful of the last few weeks. I live in a beautiful place with an amazing morning view but it is also garden-less (no paddling pool for me), and at least a 15 minute drive to my nearest swim spot ( travel that is not work or shopping). Stay at home…Save lives….Protect the NHS was the mantra and our local government (I live in Wales) rightly interpreted this as strictly as it knew it’s citizens could cope with.
Sadly, due to the lack of unity of our governments’ decision making structure, decisions began to be made that meant disparity in what people could do. In Wales, we whole-heartedly support the extension of the lockdown regime. The numbers that have died from this awful virus in Wales are already equivalent to at least 14 Aberfan disasters and people, including me, are supportive of a cautious approach to a return to what will be our ‘new normal’.
The lack of unity has unfortunately meant that our media feeds have been stuffed full to the rafters of images of other areas of the UK where people have a bit more freedom. Freedom to visit beauty spots, freedom to meet other family members in outside spaces, freedom to exercise outdoors more frequently and now it seems, freedom to swim.
The swimming freedom was the most difficult for me personally. While I am genuinely happy for those able to do so, I find the many images of smiling watery faces with the accompanying missives expressing happiness, tougher than walking gingerly, barefoot, across a sea of lego.
I am aware that my personal reactions to the images are steeped in my individual situation biases. My NHS job, even though part time and not on a front-line COVID ward, has been horrific and confusing at times. I will feel uneasy about publicly expressing joy when all around me are still challenged. It has made me look very introspectively at my social media activity and I’m not sure how these current personal dilemmas will impact on it long term (it’s always been about the sharing of joy you see).
An image shared on social media is so powerful. I know for a fact that images that I’ve shared in the past have prompted folk who have wanted to try outdoor swimming to message me saying that they wanted to try swimming outdoors and how were they to go about it. I also know that in the past, I have been inspired by images that I’ve seen, especially if there is a location attached and have, on more than one occasion, headed to an unfamiliar swim spot based on that image.
So perhaps now is not the time to post the ‘yay swimming’ posts. There are people who can’t share your joy right now, there are people who are grieving for family members, for the loss of their former life-style, people at odds with their ‘new normal’, people who are challenged mentally by their daily routine and more importantly, and most frighteningly, people who may put themselves in danger by trying new things that they truly should not try right now. Now is not the time to try outdoor swimming in unfamiliar spots alone which they may do by simply clicking on an image shared on social media. The consequence of this is far reaching both in strain on the emergency services and potential strain on the NHS.
This is a plea to think before you post. The swimming community is generally very supportive of each other but it hasn’t felt so in the last few weeks. Some social media accounts have got ‘it’ spot on. Gently sharing pictures of beauty in nature that are obviously swim related but are respectful and empathetic to those who cannot share the same experience right now. Thank you to the folk behind those images. I suspect that you know who you are.