Swimming hats off to all Swimathon swimmers this weekend. In Dulwich a very special lady, Jackie Bedford, President of the English Schools’ Swimming Association and JAPS swimming coach, has encouraged the local community to dust off their cozzies and get into the water, whatever their shape, age or level of experience, to take the Dulwich Challenge.
You can swim, free, in our local pools – JAGS Sports Club, Dulwich Leisure Centre and Dulwich College until Sunday 29 April. Register with Swimathon and visit www.dulwich-challenge.co.uk to log your miles. Local mother and son Sue and Archie Mitchell describe their journey……
Having a son who swims competitively is a mixed blessing: you really appreciate the sport and the dedication of the athletes but you can also feel daunted by just slow you are in comparison! Some of his friends are a bit embarrassed by our snail’s pace and discourage their parents from getting in whilst they’re training – thankfully Archie doesn’t. And when he heard about the Dulwich Challenge he was the first to persuade me to give it a go.
The aim is to clock up as many lengths as you can – as he explains it, if everyone in Dulwich joins in we could complete a virtual swim to New Zealand in no time. As things stand at the moment there are about 300 people involved – the young and the old, the fit and the – well, not to put to finer point on it – the not so fit!!
This isn’t a charge that can be levelled at 15 year old Archie, who trains with the Beacon Programme at Crystal Palace and has just been chosen to represent Britain in the European Open Water Championships. During his seven training sessions a week he and his friends clock up endless miles for the Dulwich Challenge virtual trip across the globe. What inspires them is the thought of friendships formed with swimmers at the New Zealand club, where those of a similar age are adding together their laps and mailing in the results.
As Archie sees it, swimming is the perfect way to unwind, socialise and earn countless credits when it comes to the scrabble for University places. Adults doing the Dulwich Challenge are motivated by a whole variety of reasons but mainly share a deep seated belief that by combining our efforts the overall task will be easier for all. We swim at a variety of pools, from the outdoor Lido’s to School pools, like Jags, and leisure centres across the borough.
So – costume packed and goggles ready – I head off to Crystal Palace – Archie streaking ahead over in the far lanes but a group of us plodding along happily….four miles between us after an hour in the water. It is about 11,500 miles to Dunedin– one of the furthest points on the globe. I’m raising sponsorship through my efforts but some of the younger swimmers are happy just counting the miles, giving us looks of disbelief as we intersperse each length or two with a few minutes of chit- chat.
Archie and his friends at the Beacon programme – which was set up to promote swimming in London – think the Dulwich Challenge offers a great way to help raise the profile of Sport Relief by doing something they love. Sometimes we joke about what it would be like to actually try and start a swim across the globe, he told me: “but this is a lot easier and you don’t get half as cold. There are lots of things going on to help Sport Relief but this is such a good idea – I’ve never been to New Zealand but would love the chance to get there…although when I do, it will be on a plane!”
But back to the Challenge – it was the brain child of Jackie Bedford, a key figure in swimming in this area, who wears many hats, from swim teacher to President of the English Schools Swimming Association. She sees the importance that sport can have on health and well being, particularly for teenagers: “it encourages goal setting, time management skills, competition experience and in terms of fitness you can’t really beat it. My children competed and now I’m doing my best to clock up lengths because if we all do our bit we can be proud of getting Dulwich New Zealand bound!”
So two weeks in – I haven’t actually lost any weight, but that’s probably because I feel so energised by my dips that I’ve been out socialising with my new pool friends! Archie’s big race in Israelis fast approaching and so he’s increasing his distance per session. Funnily enough, so am I, as I get fitter – slowly but surely. More people are joining in and as Archie says: “swimming is getting pretty popular, I didn’t think so many of my friends would be involved in this so it shows they’re interested in more than just the galas.”
When we get in Ron (the coach), has a set well planned out so sometimes I forget to keep track of how many lengths we’ve done – then it’s only at the end that I count it all up and it’s hard to imagine that we can be doing that much. When we saw that it’s like 11,000 miles or more to New Zealand, I thought it was never going to be possible – but now I don’t know. Sometimes I think we might do it. The other times I don’t want to think about the final figure because it seems a way off.
One length isn’t that hard and then if we worked out how many people in Dulwich there are, we would have a great total! As Archie and his friends go off to change I reflect on this – one length at a time, it sounds so simple. But what really happens is that once you start, it’s hard to stop! Tomorrow morning I’m trying my first early morning swim – a very early morning swim…6am, to be exact! My friend, Lisa, is picking me up and we’ve promised ourselves a night out if we clock up four miles each by the end of the week…wish us luck, or better still, come and join us!
For further information or to take part please visit www.dulwich-challenge.co.uk.