How did I get into swimming?……

Back in January 2012, I was in my 3rd year of university. I had been embracing the college lifestyle a bit too much for the last two years, and I was worn out from it. A few months prior to January 2012, I was trying to make improved lifestyle choice, in an effort to venture away from the typical college lifestyle. But I couldn’t get myself to do it. I wanted to get out of the spiralling effect that college life was throwing at me. I was stuck in a vicious cycle. Something had to change!

I wanted to participate in the most healthiest sport I could find. “You guessed it”. I entered the ever so popular world of triathlon. Something about this sport grabbed my attention straight away and I wanted to be part of it. I knew I hadn’t swam for about ten years, so I signed up for 6-week course for complete beginners at Lota swimming pool in Cork, for November 2011, in order to learn how to do the freestyle stroke. These were group swimming lessons. At this stage, I could swim i.e. if I fell into the water off a boat, I could stay afloat, but I couldn’t actually swim properly. I knew for triathlon that I needed to be able to execute the freestyle stroke properly.

A week before my swimming lessons were to start, I rang the instructor and cancelled. “I had pulled out! Why? I don’t know. Was I afraid of change? Maybe I was just nervous about going to swimming lessons with a bunch of strangers”. Whatever the reason, something in me decided to cancel the lessons.

A few weeks went by and I couldn’t help but feel very angry without myself for cancelling the lessons. I felt so guilty. So I rang the instructor and asked him could I sign up for the next batch of lessons. He said, “yes, no problem, but the next set aren’t until January after the Christmas break”.

January came along quite fast. It was the first week of swimming lessons and I drove up to Lota swimming pool on my own after college. I was so nervous. It was like my first day of school all over again. We all jumped in to the 15m pool and waited at the end of the pool acting as hesitant as an old granny approaching a roundabout. I remember that there was one guy (we will call him the lone wolf), who just decided to start swimming (I use the word ‘swimming’ very loosely). His stroke was terrible! He was like an orangutan trying to do freestyle in the pool. “We have all seen it”. The splashing and thrashing. The legs flying everywhere. The huffing and puffing after they finish one length. He was that guy! He single handedly turned our swimming group in a ‘Beginners’ group. “But at least he could swim one length”.

The swimming instructor told us all to swim one length individually so that he could place us in the relevant lanes. “It was my turn”. All I was saying was to myself was, “just get to the end of the length”. When I got to the end, I was completely out of air. I felt like all the oxygen in the room had been sucked out of the air, and I was breathing through a straw. “I had only done one 15m length of the pool”.

We have all been on a treadmill in the gym whilst running our hearts out, and then we check the time on the treadmill and see we’ve only done 7-minutes or something. You tell yourself to stop looking at the time, but you can’t. Your legs are burning and you still have another 53-minutes to run. I was at this stage during these beginner swimming lessons. I was constantly looking at the clock, willing the big hand forward, so that I could be taken from this ‘pool of pain’. Every opportunity I was looking at the clock. I was desperately struggling.

I finished this session and contemplated whether or not I would even go back. Only for the fact that I paid for the six lessons in advance, I’d say I wouldn’t have bothered going back. It was a moment where you say to yourself, “Maybe it’s just not for me”.

The lessons were once a week, but I would go down to my local pool every day trying to improve. I remember, I could only swim two lengths of my local 25m swimming pool for weeks. I could never swim three in a row. I’ll never forget when my old school teacher came up to me in the pool and said, “why do you keep stopping after two lengths”, and I said, “I just can’t swim any more than two lengths”. It was the truth. I was completely out of breathe after only two lengths.

Then one day I went in and I could do four lengths in a row. “What a thrill”. Then I could do eight lengths etc…. At the end of the six week beginner lessons, I was flying it. I couldn’t stop swimming. I just fell in love with the tranquility you experience while swimming and the after effects when you get out of the pool. I always call swimming pools “the fountains of youth”. You just feel like a new person afterwards.

Six years later and I have swam down Britain’s longest river, the River Severn. Averaging a swimming distance and swimming duration of, 18.5km/day and seven hours, respectively during the adventure.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Ross O Sullivan - swim

It’s just a fantastic saying to live by when you decide to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. For me this single step was the time I rang the swimming instructor to put my name down for the lessons. 

For anyone that wants to get into swimming, find your local swimming pool. Get yourself some swimming lessons. Join a swimming club or a wild swimming group. And give it a go. Take that first single step and you’ll never know where it may lead…..

Useful links:

Wild Swimming UK – //
OSS – //

Swim Wales – //
Swim Ireland – //
British Swimming – //

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