As a youngster Olivia’s chosen sports were sailing, indoor climbing and skiing and during her gap year between school and university she did a outdoor pursuits instructor course to gain instructing qualifications in canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, hillwalking, skiing and mountain biking.
Originally from the Black Isle, she headed to Glasgow Uni in 2006 and although she was still keen to do outdoor sports she found it hard without a car and so she looked for a sport she could easily do in the city.
That’s when she started swimming with more focus, although she says her first swimming sessions were embarrassing.
She explains: “As water sports had always been my thing I could swim but most of my swimming had been in buoyancy aids, swimming after upturned boats. So when I went into a pool I’d try to swim as though I had a buoyancy aid on but as I didn’t I would sink.
“I thought it would be a good idea to work on this mainly so I didn’t look so stupid in the pool. I joined the swimming improvers’ class at uni. There I began to realise that technique was a thing that I lacked and the sessions helped to improve it.”
In 2009, Olivia’s swimming practise paid off when she organised a team of people to do a sponsored pool swim in aid of Cancer Research UK. Her dad died from cancer in 2007.
She says: “The swim was great fun and although it wasn’t a non-stop swim I was able to swim further than I ever thought possible.”
Olivia starts open water swimming
Open water swimming came about again through convenience. Olivia says: “During a summer back on the Black Isle I found that getting to a pool was hard work but if I put on my wetsuit I could go for a swim in the sea just outside my house.
“Then I realised that it was more fun to swim in the sea than in a pool as there was so much more to see. I loved to watch the changing scenery of the sea floor and the various rocks, weeds and creatures.
“I also liked how you could have a hard swim up tide and then just drift back on the tide.”
In 2012, Olivia entered her first organised open water swim, the Monster Swim in Loch Ness. She says: “I entered this race as I wanted a target to aim for. At the time I was working hard at building up shoulder and arm strength as I was recovering from a bad accident where I had broken lots of bones.
“The target of the race and the pressure of not wanting to let down the people who had sponsored me helped to keep me motivated for the pool training sessions.
“I found that a training buddy also helped and I teamed up with someone else who wanted to swim regularly. This meant that as we had agreed a time to meet and swim it was harder to not turn up and it really helped my swimming.
“To prepare for the race I also attended some of Vigour events open water swimming sessions where I learned the basics of sighting.”
On race day Olivia felt nervous but she really enjoyed it and decided she wanted to do more open water swimming. She discovered GTC after being told “they are a friendly club and do a lot of open water swimming”.
Olivia says: “I was quite nervous at my first GTC swim session but the coaches where great and everyone was really friendly.
“Since being part of the club my swimming has improved massively, which is all down to the great coaching.
“I now know how important it is to hold the technique as faster limb flailing doesn’t mean faster through the water.
“I’ve also met some good people and had lots of fun at club socials and sessions.”
Olivia is not sure she has a favourite swimming distance. She says: “This summer I’ve focused on long distance events but last summer I focused more on swims of around one mile.
“I think the thing for me has been that this year I’ve known I’ve had the time to train for the longer swims and have enjoyed doing that. But in previous years I haven’t had as much time so it’s been easier to focus on the shorter distances.
“What I really love are the swims where you swim a journey rather than round in loops. I know the weather conditions don’t always make that possible but it is nice to be able to swim and focus on looking at the scenery rather than swimming and counting.
“I find it really hard to swim and count – honestly, who can do that?!”
Olivia’s best achievements
According to Olivia her best achievement so far was the 10km open water swim down the River Spey this year. She says: “Even two years ago I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for me to be able to swim that far.”
Other fun and exciting swims, include:
The Gulf of Corryvrechan – “It is such a spectacular place to swim.”
The Lamlash Splash – “Despite the jellyfish it was good to swim a journey rather than just loops.”
The Great Scottish Swim in Loch Lomond – “It was the biggest race I’ve taken part it and great fun.”
The Glencoe Open Water swim in Loch Leven – “It had a range of distances available and many club members took part in the event and we had a fun weekend away in Glencoe.”
Olivia’s top tips
1 If you can’t count and swim like me, a watch which can count your lengths is a really good Christmas present to ask for.
2 Find out how you can keep your hair in your swim hat otherwise if it gets caught in the Velcro of your wetsuit it can rub, pull and really hurt. I found pigtail plates works well.
3 Put an energy gel in your swim hat for a mid-swim snack.
4 For longer sessions, you need to eat properly before and during the session. “I found this out the hard way when I felt dreadful after a long swim set in the pool,” she says.
5 Races help you to go further. Olivia says: “I was worried before the 10km that I would be able to finish it as the furthest I’d gone in training was 6km. Christine Catterson told me I would be fine as its harder to stop in a race as the race atmosphere helps you to keep going. I hadn’t realised how right she was.”
Although Olivia plans to stick mostly to swimming in the future she says she might be talked into giving the other triathlon sports a go eventually.
Next month’s chosen triathlete of the month is Duggie Mac.