Grant has taken part in the Aspire Channel Swim every year since 2016
In 2016 I saw the leaflets and posters about the Aspire Channel Swim in the leisure centre where I work. I spoke to some of my colleagues about getting together to form a team and go for it, which we did. That year I managed to get the 22 miles completed in a couple of weeks and decided to keep going to try to swim back across the Channel before the end date. I noticed that I was in the top 20 for distance travelled and when I mentioned that to a work colleague, she challenged me to be in the top 10 by the official end date of the challenge - which I did, swimming 88 miles in total. The best thing was, she had to make an extra donation to Aspire!
Since then, I have taken part in the Swim every year. I've always been a swimmer, so being able to do something to help others, whilst doing something I love, is too good an opportunity to miss out on.
The first year I took part I was a wee bit doubtful as to whether I'd be able to do it in the dates that are set out for the challenge but, once you realise that it's not a race but a swim over 12 weeks, it actually took a lot of the pressure off. Plus, when you work it out in kilometres instead of miles, it doesn't seem so bad.. but we all know it's really the swimming caps that we're addicted to!
I love swimming. I don't see taking on the Aspire Channel Swim each year about me swimming, it's about me raising money for Aspire. The swimming is just something that I'd be doing anyway.
I've been swimming since I was 6 years old. Since then it's always been in my blood plus living on an island where there's water everywhere, it's a good thing to be into. My younger brother Colin got me into open water swimming, which is great - a wee bit colder than the pool but still gives you a great buzz. As long as there's water around you, you can always go for a swim, whether in a pool, river, loch, the sea.. anywhere, just be safe.
Many many years ago I suffered a serious knee injury which meant I was limited to how well I could play sports (well, between that and a lack of ability to actually play sports!). Swimming is a great exercise during which my knee problem doesn't bother me as much, unless I do a lot of breaststroke.
Nowadays I'd say that the main reason for swimming would be my job. As I'm a lifeguard at our local pool, it goes without saying that I need to swim, but what I really like about swimming is that it doesn't need to be in the pool. It helps you relax as well, especially when the pool is quiet. In the sea it's a bit more difficult for me to relax - knowing there's things out there that are bigger than me kind of keeps me on edge. Getting freaked out by your own shadow following you when swimming is a good one!
When my brother got me involved in the open water scene it really opened my eyes to what I'd been missing out on. It covers all the bases for wellbeing – it's a great way to lose weight, it's a great way to improve your all round fitness, you feel so good about yourself after a swim (once you've stopped shaking) and it's a great reason to eat cake afterwards and not feel at all guilty about it.
I've now seen parts of my home island I'd probably never have seen if I hadn't started open water swimming. It really is an amazing island.
The biggest challenge just now is trying to get into the swimming pool. As we are still working on a restricted timetable due to Covid-19 restrictions and, with working shifts, it's not always suitable for me to get into the sea. So much depends on the weather - which way the wind’s blowing, what the tide is doing, how many jellyfish there are!
This challenge really has helped me back to swimming with a purpose, instead of just aimlessly plodding up and down the pool.
The only thing that put me off swimming in the pool was when the lane got too busy as then you have to swim at everyone else's pace. I couldn't do that, so I'd get out or just not go in. It's not about being grumpy and wanting the lane to myself (although, who doesn't want that!) it's more that with working there I don't want to get in anyone's way as they're the paying public. I don’t want anyone to complain about a member of staff ploughing through everyone in the lane! That's the beauty of open water swimming – no lanes and everyone's pace is acceptable.
I really thought I would struggle to do the Aspire Channel Swim last year because of the pandemic but, in all honesty, I'm finding it more difficult this year to get in and maintain any continuity. Last year, once the restrictions on movement eased and you could travel more than 5 miles to exercise, it was great. All the beaches were just outside my 5 mile radius, so I couldn't get any swimming done until then. Then my brother showed me a spot that I was passing just about every day during my lockdown walks that I'd never even thought of, it just shows how easy it is to miss what's right in front of you.
Once we went back to work at the sports centre, we had to undergo our staff training, which meant building up our stamina in the pool. Luckily for me, it meant I could get some miles under my belt for the Aspire challenge. As it turned out, I did most of my swims outdoors. Right up to completing my challenge on a chilly, snowy Boxing Day. Very refreshing to say the least.
Although I'm registered as an open water swimmer for the Aspire challenge, I've done a few miles at our local pool – Ionad Spòrs Leòdhais (Gaelic for 'Lewis Sports Centre') – which is also where I work. I'm planning on getting out into the sea for a few sessions, which will count towards the challenge as well. Fingers crossed!
My tip for other swimmers is to try not to think about the distance you've still got to do, but about what you've already completed. That way, when the going gets tough, it'll help to motivate you. The challenge is great fun, just go at your own pace. Don't worry about how many lengths anyone else has done in their swim session, just congratulate yourself on however many you've managed to do.
Fundraising can be a bit difficult and feel very slow at times, especially as there are a lot of events going on throughout the year. I post updates on social media with a link to my JustGiving page. Some years I can raise £150, others I might struggle to reach £50. You can only do your best.
I fundraise purely through social media as it’s easier to reach folk and at least I don't have to chase them for the money when I'm done. I don't like to put pressure on anyone to make a donation, but I did warn them just before I started that I would be pestering them with updates and sharing my JustGiving link quite a bit. Then, it's entirely up to them.
I don’t personally know anyone with a spinal cord injury but I am totally humbled by the work that Aspire does. Being a lifeguard means we're trained to deal with suspected spinal injuries in the pool environment. It's another one of those skills that you hope you'll never need to use. Knowing that I can raise money to help with someone's rehabilitation after an incident is a great feeling.
I feel that what I'm doing in the water is nothing compared to the work that Aspire is doing. I don't feel that it's about me - as it shouldn't be - as I'm only a small cog in a very big wheel of swimmers taking part in this challenge. We would all still be swimming without Aspire but, thanks to the team creating this challenge year in year out, we're now swimming with a purpose. Or, if you're an open water swimmer, that could be swimming with a porpoise!