Lisa Sharples

My journey to Coniston – Lisa Sharples

I don’t think of myself as a swimmer. On the start line for the Coniston swim, one of the crew referred to us as athletes. Imagine!


I’ve been terrified of water for most of my life. I still struggle to put my face in - the adrenaline rush takes me back to being tumbled in the waves as a toddler - I find the resulting panic difficult to control.

My journey to Coniston probably began about five years ago when my little boy went for swimming lessons at the local pool. I was determined he should develop the water confidence I didn’t have. I went along and hung out in the shallow end of the pool, breaststroke arms on the surface and feet walking along the bottom while my child was taught in the next lane. After a while I started to pay attention. I copied the moves in the shallows. One week the teacher gave me a pool woggle and encouraged me to try the deep end of the pool. I swam my first ever length just before the pools closed due to Covid lockdown.


My son reminds me now that the first length is the hardest to learn. After that it’s practice.

I practiced when the pools were open and slowly increased the number of lengths. My particular brand of head-up breaststroke isn’t elegant or technically proficient but it got me from one end of the pool to the other and that felt like a massive achievement.

I discovered the lake during lockdown, passing it one day on a bike ride and going to investigate. I figured it would be the next step in conquering my fear of the sea. I persuaded my husband to take our son on the inflatable Aqua park while I hired a wetsuit and walked myself into the water. I think that was the day I met Holly and Mel and picked up a leaflet about Her Spirit.


Her Spirit provided the support and the challenge I needed. Within a couple of weeks I did my first ‘Go Tri’ taster event. I panicked in the water. People checked to see if I was ok. People cheered me on. I swam 200m in the lake that day despite a panic attack. A lovely Her Spiriter Lynne arranged to meet me at the lake a few days later. She helped me get back in the lake after my panic and swam a gentle lap with me. I didn’t drown. My confidence grew.


I met another Her Spiriter Jus when I started the Winter Swim Challenge. She’d signed up to swim Coniston. The idea of swimming in such spectacular scenery appealed, but the distance was laughable … I was more 500m than 5 miles. Still, the winter swim was another challenge and I pushed myself to swim through that first winter in the lake. I didn’t freeze OR drown, my confidence grew a little more.


The following year was a bit of a blur. I started cycling too. I swam in the lake twice a week and when the winter swim challenge was done I signed up for the first Her Spirit summer solstice swim. Holly suggested I do something that scared me a bit. Mel said I could sign up for 5k and stop early if I needed to. I swam that 5k in 3hrs 57 minutes with the support of Her Spiriters. I didn’t drown and I was incredibly proud. Coniston was feeling like a possibility.

swim with prideswim with pride

My second winter swim challenge was about cold endurance and distance. I signed up to learn freestyle too and will be forever grateful to Holly and others for supporting me to put my face in the water for the first time despite the terror I was feeling.


Nothing is ever straight forward. I signed up for Coniston thinking I could do a mix of freestyle and breaststroke. As it turned out, I put a lot of pressure on myself to learn something that fundamentally makes me panic and to do it in a matter of months.  After lots of soul searching and tears I realised I had to ‘swim my own swim’ and decided to focus on improving my head up breaststroke. Training was hampered by an arthritis flare-up, an ear infection and a knee injury as well as my mental struggles but the constant throughout was the support of the Her Spirit tribe. They picked me up every time I stumbled.


I swam Coniston. Head up breaststroke all the way in 5 hours 34 minutes.


Her Spiriters checked on me as they passed and encouraged me in the challenging conditions. That face-in-the-water experience came in handy as the waves were overwhelming at times. Her Spiriters waited at the finish for me to cross the line. They congratulated me and hugged me and celebrated my achievements. I was 617th out of 619 and I feel like I won Olympic gold.