I’ve been talking to a few people about triathlon training and everyone’s said the same thing: focus on the weakest element. For me, that’s swimming.
I learned to swim at primary school. Once a fortnight my primary school class would get on a bus with our bright orange swimming bags and travel six miles to the nearest swimming pool. I felt clumsy and awkward in my swimming costume and hated putting my head underwater. Somehow I managed to learn backstroke and breaststroke. And that’s been good enough for me for years.
The first time I thought about getting some adult swimming classes was when I was living in Australia. But, in a country where everyone seemed to swim beautifully and effortlessly, I was embarrassed to admit I couldn’t and kept finding excuses not to do anything about my lack of swimming skills.
The second time I thought about adult swimming classes I did something about it. I booked myself on a course, which I was halfway through when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some people are able to exercise during treatment. I wasn’t. I had a PICC line in my arm and spent my time either in a hospital bed or on the sofa at home. The last thing I felt like doing was exercising and my consultant didn’t want me to go to any public places because of the risk of infection. So that was that.
The third time I thought about swimming lessons was when I started Freyathlon – my personal challenge to have a go at every Olympic sport open to women at Rio2016. I completed the breaststroke and backstroke (both 100m and 200m) without much trouble but had no idea how I’d manage the front crawl and butterfly – the individual and team events, and the 10k swim, and the triathlon.
I watched a few videos online, read a few books, splashed around in the pool trying to remember what I’d been taught a few years earlier. It wasn’t working and I knew I needed help. I entered a competition to win some swimming lessons and entered the A J Bell London Triathlon to give me a goal. I won the competition and was lucky enough to get Michael as my swimming instructor. He watched me thrashing around in the pool and suggested I slow down my pace, he gave me a float and some kicking drills to get my legs higher in the water. He showed me how to extend my arm to get a good reach in the water. He told me to rest my head on my shoulder to take a breath. If you can already swim front crawl it probably sounds obvious but to me each suggestion was a revelation and things slowly started to fall into place.
At the beginning of this year I couldn’t swim a stroke of front crawl. In February, I swam 50m for the first time. In March, I joined three other novice swimmers to attempt to swim, together with our swimming instructors, 100 laps. I swam 12 laps – mostly front crawl. That’s 300m, almost half what I’ll need to swim in August.
"I can do it. "
If you want to follow my progress and find out which Olympic sports I’ve completed, please take a look at my Freyathlon blog or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.
And if you’d like to support me and help support people affected by cancer, please visit my fundraising page