ASM take on the Great North Swim

TWO ASM MEMBERS recently took part in the 2014 Great North Swim, and what follows are their personal accounts behind their experience, motivation and more.

Alasdair Park Alasdair:

The Great North Swim of 2014 was my Olympic Final. Alasdair Park of Salford, the son of a teacher and a solicitor, grandson of a postman and a painter and decorator. Alasdair Park and thousands of others completed the Great North Swim on Saturday 14th June 2014 for a number of reasons, many of them selfish, others selfless. Many were swimming in Lake Windermere for the advancement of Cerebral Palsy Sport England and Wales and the priceless work they pursue to ensure people with cerebral palsy in England and Wales have the glimmer of a chance, the whisper of the thrill of competition, that moment in time where the psychology switches from what one cannot do, to what one can. Others were swimming for Macmillan Cancer Trust, others for ME, others just to be defiant sons and daughters of guns just to prove a point.

The day began at 5.30am, up, breakfast, let’s get this show of shows on the road. In truth it had been on the road for eight months, day-in, day out. Weights, swim, weights, swim, weights, swim, cross-trainer, swim, swim, row. As relentless as the ticking of a clock the road was long and arduous. My goal with the Great North Swim was simple. Finish in under 1 hour, and be the first disabled finisher in my group.

After the journey to Windermere I played the disabled card for one of the seldom times I play it, ensuring all I had to focus on during the day itself was to get in the water and take what I believed was mine.

I will forever struggle with the idea that I have a form of cerebral palsy that allows me to be functional in my day to day existence, and others struggle to survive, move, walk and talk. This was not for me, it was not about me, I was just a vessel to strike a blow on their behalf. It was nothing to do with me.

All the hours of open-water training in Boundary Park, Knutsford and Dock 9 in Salford paid off. I swam to the half mile mark in under 23 minutes, faster than I had ever swam before. It was a sensation of satisfaction that will never leave me. The turn for home was hard, but I was kicking hard, eventually spluttering and flopping up the ramp as I finished in 54 minutes and a solitary second, nearly six minutes under my target. Then, I heard a call “ALASDAIR!” it was my father, exultant in my joy and impatient to take a photograph. The only thing I could do was pump a fist, I daren’t take my goggles off because I was in bits. Exhausted and truly happy to have set a goal, and followed it, leaving no stone unturned. It was a wonderful day.

SARAH THORNHILLSarah:

I signed up to the swim because my local kayak club had invited me to take part in the kayaking for it. However, I thought what a brilliant idea it would be to swim it instead of volunteer at it. Looking back, this was probably an insight to my potential madness, but I am extremely glad I did it.

My experience was very different to Alasdair’s. I had not trained anywhere near as much as he had in actual water, never mind open water. I had not swam in my wetsuit before the actual day of the event. I had been swimming twice in the space of about a month before the actual day and that was in a pool. I had managed to swim a mile in a pool in 45 minutes. I expected it to be that easy on the day. I was massively wrong.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t exercised at all, it was just that I hadn’t been swimming and swimming in a pool is greatly different than swimming in a cold lake with swarms of other people and boats. My ‘training’ consisted of running three times a week followed by a circuit-type program as soon as my run had finished. I did weekly bleep tests and I also went kayaking biweekly. I knew I could swim a mile and wasn’t massively fussed about what time I got so long as I finished. I was really just relying on my fitness to be enough to carry me along.

On the day, I had a bit of a lie in as we didn’t even leave until about 10am. I got there a bit late and ended up being at the front when it was time to walk into the lake. The buzzers sounded, and I was then left in a crowd of elite swimmers sprinting passed me. It was then that the seriousness of this swim and what I had got myself into actually hit me. It felt like I was moving my arms and legs and not getting anywhere and I kept getting overtaken. Refusing to let that get to me, I was finally in a good rhythm and making decent progress when a lady in a kayak came to tell me off for taking my swim cap off. I then had to tread water for a while to put it back on. I had to keep stopping to put it back on again because it kept falling off. My goggles ended up just being stuffed down my wetsuit because I couldn’t see out of them. Towards the end I was about 400m off the finish line and I could clearly see the end but it still felt really far away. The next wave had set off and I had been overtaken by someone completing it in ten minutes.

My only goal was to not come last. I achieved this and finished in 1.19 which is a good half an hour more than the time it took me in a pool. I am aiming to do it again next year and now that I know the set up and that I can do it, I just need to train a bit more. If I were to do it again I’d like to do it with someone else, this is because it can get you down if you think you’re nowhere near the front and are going really slowly. But then you give yourself a reality check and you think about how you have raised a lot of money for a charity and that they will really appreciate you doing this and you tell yourself that you can make it because you have already made it this far. It is all in your head.