a different kind of athlete

For the last year or so being a swimmer has meant having to become a different kind of athlete.  In twelve months, I may have made it to the pool for a swim maybe ten times.  Training has often involved staying indoors at home and doing dry-land exercise in front of a TV screen. Previously this would have been an unthinkable state of affairs for an outdoor swimmer.  

  Lockdown has changed the way that we do our exercise and we train for our sports.  Dry-land training was previously an add on rather than the bulk of the exercise.  Almost every swimmer I know has changed their weight and their physique in the last year.  Some have focused on building strength and muscle, others on building body mass, a few have lost weight and gained tone.  Almost all without regular access to either a swimming pool or a supervised outdoor swim venue. 

Recently I have been reviewing YouTube footage of winter swimming events and open water races.  It’s been a useful way of burning through time spent at home and relieving boredom.  One of the things that struck me was that the conventional expectation of size and shape of athletes that I grew up with, watching primed people on the athletics track with virtually fat free bodies and bulging muscles, these were not always the people on the podium or even the starting lane of the winter swimming competitions.  Open water swimming events were attracting a different kind of athlete

Instead the physiques tended to have more in common with the discus throwers and weight lifters that I watched at the Olympics: solid, chunky bodies and in their element, unbeatable.  This change in perception was reinforced for me when I read Ross Edgeley’s “The World’s Fittest Book” and his description of Geoff Capes, formerly the world’s strongest man.  Geoff Capes had a solid, chunky body but could run 200m faster than most club runners ever achieve.

Over the winter months, when I have been able to swim outdoors, many of the new people to the sport didn’t have the physique of the track athlete, but were in the water building up speeds and distances that would win medals if they had been in competition events.  I have always been self-conscious that I have a big belly that both bloats and floats, but I can swim faster than many younger, leaner, and possibly keener athletes. 

Recently I watched a live web chat between Fenwick Ridley and Cath Pendleton in which they discussed many things including how winter swimming has made them into the non-stereo typical kind of athlete. Cath was recently a finalist  for the World of Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) Woman of the Year, and achieved a new world record for being the first woman to swim an ice mile in Antarctica.  Fenwick is a Swim England open water swimming coach and runs an open water coaching company H2O Trails. As we come out of lockdown and pools and outdoor swim venues open up again, whatever size or shape we are, we can swim in confidence that we are a different kind of athlete: we are open water athletes. 

Here is a little bit more about Fenwick Ridley and Cath Pendleton