To swim or not to swim?
I have worked at Aspire since 2014 and have taken part in the Aspire Channel Swim every year. Each year I spend August pretending to contemplate whether or not to sign up again, when everyone I know doesn’t doubt it for a second! However, this year will be different for everyone.
For me, swimming will be very different. I’ve always felt a bit guilty that’s it’s a lot easier for me than most of our swimmers to go swimming regularly as I work at the Aspire Leisure Centre and have free access to the swimming pool. As I would be driving there five days a week anyway, I would just arrive an hour or two early - usually around 7am - get my lengths in, and head upstairs to my desk, often still starting work before a lot of my colleagues!
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything. All charities are suffering, and I have been furloughed since April. I am now working one day a week at home and even after the furlough scheme ends at the end of October, we will not be going back to the office full-time as we did before. This means that for the first time I will have to carefully plan my swimming sessions and as I’m not driving to work anyway, I’ll be spending money on petrol that I wouldn’t otherwise need to.
The current social distancing rules in place mean I can’t just turn up and swim whenever I feel like it, but I have to plan ahead and book my slot. With only four people allowed in a lane at one time, this means that many slots are booked up days in advance.
So last weekend - still telling myself I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to take on the Swim this year - and having spent the previous few days obsessively looking at the bookings on the leisure centre’s app, I finally took the plunge and booked myself in for the 10:15 slot on Saturday morning in the fast lane, as only one other person had also booked for that session.
On arrival, dressed ‘swim ready’ I had my temperature taken, took a basket to put my belongings in and headed into the water. As it’s an accessible pool I walked down the ramp designed for wheelchair users, feeling the water lapping further up my legs as I headed down into the pool. I couldn’t even wait to get to the bottom before submerging myself headfirst into the water. It felt so freeing! I swam over to my assigned lane, under the rope and I was off! I honestly can’t even put into words how good it felt! I had the lane to myself for an hour which was an added bonus. Even though I could feel my muscles beginning to ache, I pushed myself to keep going and swam a mile in 48 minutes. That’s a good time for me on any day but when I hadn’t swum in six months, I was extremely chuffed with myself. I felt so good for the rest of the day, and it came back to me how starting the day off with a swim really makes me feel great – somehow more energised but more relaxed at the same time - and that feeling stays with me all day.
Although I love swimming and this challenge makes me swim more regularly, I know that Aspire needs the support of its swimmers this year more than ever before. Throughout the pandemic, Aspire has continued to support people with Spinal Cord Injury through its services but, because many of the fundraising events it relies on have had to be cancelled, its future is not secure. This is also why I plan to start fundraising straight away, as we don’t know what will happen over the next few months.
I know I am extremely lucky that my pool has reopened, but this year’s Aspire Channel Swim will not be the same for me. I loved going upstairs after each swim to be high fived as I walked through the office and the ongoing support I’d get from my colleagues as the miles racked up gave me extra motivation. But so many things are different this year that it will be nice to have one thing that’s the same… so yes, this autumn I will, of course, be taking on my 7th Aspire Channel Swim.