Zoggs Swim Diaries: Outdoor swimming for the non-swimmer

If you've not come across the Zoggs Swim Diaries before, it's typically where you'll find guest posts from inspirational people who are taking on a personal challenge. Whether it be learning to swim, working towards a specific goal or doing something extraordinary, every one of us has a story to tell. And that's what we love about the Zoggs Swim Diaries. Let us introduce you to Andi Wheeler...

A few words about me – My name is Andi Wheeler, I am a 49 years old, size 24 and suffer from several long term health conditions (including Hypermobility, POTS, and Endometriosis among others – most of them contributing to Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue) that affect my mobility and exercise tolerance. I used to enjoy walking but gradually as my joints have deteriorated my ability to walk has declined and my weight has increased leading to a vicious downward spiral.

I can only doggy paddle thanks to my stupid joints, I hate putting my face in the water and I have the greatest difficulty getting in but I LOVE being in the water – it is so wonderful to be free of gravity – for everything not to hurt just for that hour or so. I have been going to our local pool twice a week for the past 2 years or so – I don’t actually do a lot of “swimming” but use a Hydrotherapy Belt to assist me in a series of hydrotherapy exercises including walking , cycling and cross-country skiing with a few basic stretches and balances thrown in. I really notice it if I have to miss a couple of sessions and my mood also drops.

Having a chronic condition, particularly one that is not visible (an invisible disability) is extremely wearying both mentally and physically – often you have no treatment options or the possibility of an end but you also have to put up with harassment from people – “why are you using a disabled bay?” “Why should I give up my seat to you?”, “why don’t you stop malingering and get a job?” The verbal abuse is actually better than the disgusted looks and sneers that you see on a daily basis. When I am in the pool I can forget all about that – no-one is judging me, no-one is sneering at me, I might get some funny looks when I use the mobility hoist to get in but at least I know I am DOING something that has a positive effect on my condition, my overall health and my mental wellbeing.

In 2017 I discovered the Superhero Triathlon and decided that I would like to take part. I bought myself a tricycle (one of the many fun effects of Hypermobility is Poor Proprioception which leads to a terrible sense of balance) and in August myself, my husband and his best friend took part in the Team Sprint event. I have NEVER felt so accomplished – I have never been sporty and had never dreamed that I would be able to do anything even vaguely sport related let alone take part in a Triathlon! I decided that in 2018 I would like to try and do the swim stage which given my lack of swimming ability and water issues (I have a *wonderful* older brother who used to think it was funny to swim up behind me and grab my legs to pull me under the water or simply push me under and hold me there – needless to say this left me with a few “hangups” about water) is a real challenge for me but I WILL do it!!!

andi 2

After exhaustive searches, first for a wet suit to fit and then for an accessible Open Water Swimming venue, and with my Hydrotherapy Belt and a full face mask as security blankets I did my first Open Water Swim with Swim Heron near Staines on 25th June and I LOVED IT!!! I guess it helped that it was one of the hottest days of the year and the water was lovely and refreshing (and 22C!) but I did it and I hope to go back twice a week until the end of summer.

In summary no matter what size or shape you are, no matter whether you can swim or not, if you freak out at the thought of being out of your depth or being splashed in that face, if you hyperventilate at the thought of putting your head under that water IT DOESN’T MATTER!! Get yourself to a body of water and relax into it. Even if it just sitting on the beach and letting the water come up to your armpits DO IT – it’ll make you feel better about yourself. If I can do it then I’m sure you can give it a try.