As I build towards the Sport Relief games, yesterday I attended a ‘Swimathon Masterclass’ led by swimming legends Karen Pickering (4 x World Championship Gold Medallist) and Duncan Goodhew (Olympic Gold Medallist). For those who’ve been following my ‘Sport Relief posts‘, you’ll know that I’ve been splashing away in the pool since October learning to swim the front crawl to raise money & awareness for the fabulous Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Swimathon on March the 23rd 2014 at the epic Olympic aquatic centre!
Demonstrating my nascent and highly amateur swimming skills to two world-class, decorated athletes was massively daunting, but fortunately Karen and Duncan were so approachable, sympathetic and very generous with their sage advice – and luckily, quite patient too! I got to sponge up some fascinating tips on how to improve my technique from perhaps the best-qualified teachers in the sport. One of my favourite vignettes from the class came just before we jumped into the pool for the first time, when Duncan pointed out if we’d been lying next to the pool on a sun-kissed holiday, we would certainly be appreciating it’s glorious opalescent colours, the elegant reflections on the water, the mesmeric way it creates beautiful rippling; “just think about that for a second before jumping into the pool, and appreciate it“. That really struck a chord with me; in an active life, the ‘London’ pace tends to rush us through without affording us time to just stop, breathe it in, appreciate what’s there, and then enjoy it more fully. Click to see more of their pearls of wisdom…
Once in the pool, Karen and Duncan deployed a few more instructive metaphors to help me marry the mental aspect of swimming with the physical; the image of swimming through a tunnel to encourage keeping ‘everything’ close and tight to the body; to envision pulling a massive rope in order to get from one end of the pool to the other, really stretching, reaching and pulling yourself forward. One of the exercises I was asked to do was to put a dumbell-shaped float between my thighs which would prevent me from kicking my legs and instead force me to use my arm strength; I’m naturally stronger in my lower body when it comes to swimming so it really forced me to work my arms more than ever, highlighting the latent power you can get from combining upper and lower body strength!
By the end of the hour-and-a-half, I’d managed to pull together all the threads of advice into one final length that just made perfect sense – a real ecstatic eureka moment for me, thanks to some great tweaking and helpful exercises. It was followed by Duncan’s brilliant pool-salute ritual, thanking the water for hosting us during the swim! (I’ll be quietly performing this little ritual myself in future )
With this renewed bout of self-belief in my front crawl, and concentrated shot of enthusiasm, I’m now ridiculously excited about the actual event, and would certainly urge you to share in it! Anyone can sign up to Sport Relief (here) regardless of fitness level or experience. Choose from the Swimathon, Cycle or the Mile! Whilst you’re burning off calories & improving the quality of your own life, you’ll be helping to transform the lives of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people both in the UK and around the world.
I plan to post an interview with Duncan in the coming weeks, as I think there’s much to borrow from his ethos around swimming, and I’d like to share that with you. Stay tuned!
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