Swimming 21km for Macmillan Cancer Support is proving to be a rich metaphor for life

Swimming in a lakeOver the last few years, like many, I have seen and experienced first-hand the random and devastating impact cancer can have on the lives of family and friends.

Over the last year alone, my sister and a dear friend have suffered from the emotional and physical impact of mouth and prostate cancer. My sister’s mouth cancer and the associated surgery and treatment has caused her great pain. She has also had to deal with not being able to taste, eat or enjoy foods, living on a liquid diet and has trouble talking. She has had to give up work because of the impact of her cancer.

My friend has also had life-changing impacts from his disease for him and his family. He is in great pain, suffers debilitating physical side effects and has also had to give up work.

The Macmillan Cancer Support team have been a source of support for both my sister, my friend and their families.

Earlier this year, I decided to raise money for Macmillan to help them to continue to offer their physical, emotional and financial support to cancer sufferers and their families.

Perhaps stupidly, I went very large with my challenge – a 21km swim along Lake Windermere in the Lake District. Quite honestly, I was not entirely convinced that I’d ever be able to swim 21km and achieve this challenge. This has forced me to work hard to figure out how to do this to ensure I do my best by the charity.

Three years ago, I was unable to swim a length of our local 25m pool, so I swallowed my pride and sought help from Keith Lewis, a local swimming coach at the Swim Shed. Keith has patiently, and with some humour, taught me how to swim and I have completed a few swim challenges over the last two years but nothing on the scale of Windermere.

To swim 21km will take an average swimmer, like me, between 7 and 8 hours in excellent conditions and this lake does not always deliver excellent conditions. It is large, deep and open and can have swells bigger than the sea.

So, since the beginning of June, I’ve been getting down to our local pool and working on creating an efficient swim stroke. An efficient stroke is one that gives you the furthest forward distance travelled for the minimum effort, particularly important when trying to swim long distances. In addition, I’ve been doing one long open water swim a week in colder water conditions. I started with 1.5 hours in June and will complete my longest training swim of 5 hours this weekend. I also completed the Thames Marathon, a distance of 14km on 4th August to test out how I would fare in colder water for a long period of time. This taught me the surprising amount of energy your body needs to stay warm in only moderately cold water.

Keith had said that swimming Windermere would teach me patience and he has been proved absolutely right! You do not go anywhere quickly while swimming and you need to reconcile yourself to spending a long time in the water. What this has taught me is that to achieve the seemingly impossible in water, you need to patiently and diligently plough on in the right direction and if you maintain your progress, no matter how small, you will eventually reach your destination. Now, who would have thought that swimming would throw up such a rich metaphor for life?

I am due to take part in the Windermere swim on Sunday 1st September and I am hopeful that, if I apply this principle and think of the positive impact the money raised for Macmillan Cancer Support will make, I’ll make it to the end and successfully complete the swim.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in the planning of the swim and sponsorship of the event. All money raised will go to Macmillan Cancer as I am covering the cost of the swim and my friend Garin is providing the safety Kayak support. There is still time to sponsor the swim and help Macmillan Cancer Support make a difference for cancer sufferers and their families.

If you would like to help Macmillan Cancer Support continue to help those affected by cancer, you can sponsor John via this link.

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