I owe my passion for swimming to my mother. She never learned how to swim as a child (though she did when she was in her late 40s and became quite an avid swimmer), so made sure I learned at the tender age of about five. I was terrified of water getting in my ears. When it came to having to jump in, I always stood at the back of the queue hoping that my turn would never come. But I did learn, and eventually the water in my ears didn’t bother me any more.
Then, in primary school, my mum realised I had rather poor posture, so she stuck me in the local swimming club to make sure I got back strengthening exercise. Since then, on and off, I’ve been swimming regularly. I was a competitive swimmer until I was about 14 (though I was never super fast), which was when our coach quit. In the small town I grew up in, they didn’t find a new person to replace him, and that was when I made my first contact with lifesaving, because we had the option to join a local team, and some of us did. I took my first lifeguard qualification when I was 15 and even “worked” at a local open air pool one summer. Our payment was a season ticket in exchange for the hours we put in, and a bit of pocket money. I was hooked. I loved the idea of combining sports with something socially meaningful.
At 17, I moved to the UK. My school had an intense social service programme, and one option was lifeguarding. I qualified as a beach lifeguard. We spent an amazing August patrolling a beach – who knew Wales could be so sunny! After high school, I didn’t join a team for many years. At university, I swam with the university life saving club a few times, but somehow never managed to requalify. I kept on swimming more or less regularly though.
Fast forward about 15 years – one day I was doing my laps at the local open air pool when I noticed a bunch of people in swim caps of the German Lifesaving Association (sorry, no English website) in the lane next to me. Something clicked – I suddenly wished I was with them and part of a team again. They really looked like they were having fun. I approached the coach and asked if I could do a trial session. I loved it! I requalified as a lifeguard and over time even swam a couple of competitions with my team.
If you’re now wondering what a lifesaving competition looks like, let me tell you that it is very, very cool and direct you to the following video of the 2014 world championships:
Then, just over a year ago, I moved to a different city. I tried the local lifesaving club once and it wasn’t a good fit for me. They do fantastic work with swimming classes and lifesaving training for kids, but the adults hardly swim (how much swimming a team will do depends a lot on their local focus and demographic). So I was on my own again.
Then we bought a car. And a colleague had told me that her daughter swam with the lifesaving club in a neighbouring town – with my own four wheels, this was suddenly within reach. On Tuesday, I decided to give it a shot – and it was brilliant! They train in a primary school pool, so it’s tiny (16m lanes are a fun thing when trying to calculate distances), but the team is exactly my jam! It’s a gender and age group mix I like, they seem very nice, and they swim decent distances. On Tuesday we did 3,500m and on Friday, 2,600m – there were lots of drills in the Friday session.
I couldn’t be more happy I gave this a shot. Before I went, I’d been worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up – I’m not all that fast and thought they might be super hard core. In true impostor syndrome fashion, I can really get up in my head about things like this. But it was perfect! So I have a new team and will be training with them about twice a week. Watch this space for more!