Starting a piece of writing is difficult- how do you grab a reader’s attention, make them want to read on, share your thoughts and ideas and feelings! I have thought long and hard about how and where to start this blog and finally figured the old cliché, at the beginning, was as good a place as any!
I have always been a keen swimmer - I remember summer days as a child learning in the school pool, taught by my Mum, herself an accomplished swimmer. I remember the first time my feet left the floor and I made my first tentative strokes aged 4 to the side of the pool, the first time I swam a length unaided and the feeling of complete and utter joy at doing this.
I continued to swim all through school, galas, house competitions, the usual events that one associated with school days. I never had a formal lesson, just carried on taking tips from my Mum and enjoying every session in the pool. Our summer holidays as children were spent finding campsites with pools, Austrian lakes or French rivers. As long as there was water we were all happy.
Once I left school I continued swimming for pleasure and fitness, always feeling at ease and happy in the water. I took part in all sorts of sports as a school child and eventually ended up teaching PE. I used to volunteer for the swim classes and looked forward to teaching in the town’s open air pool in the summer.
Fast forward a few years, marriage, children, working, little time for myself and my swimming days seemed to be a thing of the dim and distant past. However, I had read about SwimTrek in a Sunday paper travel section and thought that sounded like the sort of thing I would like to do. A cancelled walking holiday with a friend proved to be the shove I needed, plus a fairly significant birthday fast approaching gave me the impetus to sign up. The one real decider though was that my lovely Mum passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s - I felt as if I owed it to her to give this a go as she was the one who had instilled my love of water at such a young age. So, this was partly for me, but also for my Mum.
I booked the beginners’ trip in Majorca in May 2012 and made contact with some of the other swimmers through the SwimTrek page. It was good to hear from other participants and to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling more than a little nervous. Departure day arrived and my husband dropped me off at the airport. I had already left tearful children at school so I wasn’t feeling great and suddenly wondered if I was doing the right thing. I spent the whole flight working out how I could get home and just forget the whole thing. Once I arrived I took a taxi to the hotel, unpacked and went for a wander round the town. I soon found myself on the beach with a book and a bottle of sun tan lotion - all thoughts of going home had vanished and I couldn’t wait to get started.
Introductions were made at the evening meeting - there was a huge variety of ability and reason for coming on the trip. An amazing variety of professions and different experiences. We met our guides who briefed us on the rest of the week then all went out for a group dinner where conversations carried on and we got to know each other a little more.
The next morning dawned bright and early and we met on the beach opposite our hotel. Apart from messing about in the sea as a child, I had never actually swum properly in sea water – I think everyone was nervous, but we set off on our route and after about 15 minutes were back at the start point. I surprised myself for about half a second when I took my first breath - oh, salty water!!!! Not quite sure what I was expecting and I still laugh at myself to this day when I think about that!!! A coaching session followed where we learnt to sight - this was great fun and we had a lot of laughs practising crocodile eyes. One of the other highlights of this trip was learning how to put a wetsuit on - the locals must have howled at our expense as we brandished plastic bags and wrestled with rubber in the midday heat! Fortunately we never needed to wear them as the water was lovely and warm. However, a great lesson for cooler water trips. Our first swim loomed - could we make it to the island we could just about see in the distance - probably about a mile swim in total which all of us were more than capable of doing in the pool, but it was quite. We set off, the guides in a rib and a kayak to keep their eye on us. We soon made it to the beach, most of us having consumed our fair share of salty water. This is where we learnt to “squirt, not suck” as water bottles were handed around. We were then given the option of circumnavigating the island- probably about another km in total. Most of us went for it, relishing the challenge. Those that didn’t swam over to the rocky beach and waited for us to return.
The feeling on returning to the beach was one of utter joy - everyone had completed the swim, everyone felt great and everyone was bursting with pride. I have never felt so elated and proud of myself - my fear of not being able to see the bottom was totally unfounded and I couldn’t believe the feeling of euphoria I had.
The afternoon was spent at the magnificent open-air pool in the town - we had coaching sessions every afternoon working not only on open water skills, but also on general strokes and fitness. The guides were superb and helped us all improve our technique over the course of the week. We even rubbed shoulders with the British Olympic swimmers who were training there too- amazing to watch and realise what a totally different league they were in!
The week continued much the same - a sea swim in the morning followed by coaching in the afternoon. Lazy lunches were the order of the day, followed by a spot of sun bathing and reading. Evenings were spent trying out new dishes in the local restaurants and sampling the delicious Majorcan ice cream. Don’t think that you will lose weight on these holidays - I always go home a few pounds heavier and try to pretend I have gained a load of muscle- that’s rubbish!!! The food is so good, either in local food spots or on the boats.
One of the best moments of this trip was on the penultimate day when we walked up to the far end of town and set off on what was to be our longest swim so far. Groups were set off at intervals and we met up half way, exchanging chit chat and generally encouraging each other. We swam through a narrow channel avoiding rocky outcrops and made our way back towards the shore.
As it was quite a long swim, the two faster groups arrived back some time ahead of the last three ladies: without exception, everyone waited to cheer the three yellow hats back in - we had total respect for what they had achieved and they were delighted their new friends had stayed to encourage them. We walked back to the hotel with a spring in our steps that day!
The week was soon over and we said sad farewells on the last morning. Some stayed for another few days to enjoy the sunshine, others of us headed home to family. I can say without any hesitation that that trip changed my life. I was on a high for weeks after and couldn’t stop talking about to anyone who wanted to listen, I couldn’t believe what I had actually done - been away by myself, met a group of fantastic people and had such good fun too. I vowed then that I would go on at least another SwimTrek trip the following year. What I didn’t realise was that it was going to become a bit of an addiction!!
Without exception the guides have been fantastic- our safety was always their number one concern whilst challenging us along the way. They were knowledgeable, interesting and interested. Nothing was too much trouble for them - they made cups of tea and coffee, lent warm clothes and encouraged us when we felt we couldn’t manage another stroke.
A group of six of us from that first trip have stayed in touch and some or all of us have been on other trips together: Croatia the following year, then Montenegro, Sivota on the family trip for myself and my two sons (stick with me I told my then 12 year old - I needn’t have worried, he was way faster than me!), Crete , back to Majorca on the improvers trip, and Oman in February this year. I am returning to Crete in October and have booked the Maldives for next February.
I am no longer apprehensive about travelling alone, I know there will be other solo trippers; I am no longer worried about possibly being the slowest in the group - that doesn’t matter one jot - everyone looks out for each other, the guides work it out so you aren’t left behind; I have learnt how to bi-lateral breathe after years of convincing myself I would never be able to do it; my swimming stroke has changed beyond recognition; I have made friends for life – Lakes weekends and London Lido trips have been planned, swimathon marathons have been swum, lots of laughs and the realisation that life is for living- grab it by the short and curlies whilst you can.
Not going on another trip is never going to be an option for me - I come back totally invigorated, I have experiences to talk to my family about and I get to see some totally amazing places in the world. If you are ever in any doubt then do it!