An initiative to support women who want to try open water swimming was hosted by GTC recently. The idea was launched as part of a Triathlon Scotland project supported by sportscotland.
A six-week course called Women into Open Water (WOW) comprised three weeks in the pool, a week at Pinkston Watersports Centre and two weeks at Loch Lomond.
The coaching team, led by head coach Vicky Begg, included Craig Armour, Alastair Young, Duggie Mac, Alex Rennie, Ruaraidh Wells, Lucy Roberts, Anna Taylor, Rose McIlwhan, Julie Mac and Lochlan O’Sullivan.
The course covered safety, skills, including sighting, breathing patterns and swimming in groups, as well as wetsuit swimming.
Vicky added: “We also had a plan to progress the full group towards a distance-based swim at Loch Lomond, from around 200m to 1km depending on ability, as well as the possibility of entering Swim Loch Tay.”
The main benefits for the 14 participants was a more “formal” fast-track route to open water swimming, although this is usually covered in all club sessions albeit less formally.
Vicky said: “The aim was to build confidence in those who might otherwise have had the desire to swim open water but did not have the opportunity, or the peer group, or skills or knowledge to actually try it.”
Janis McArthur was one of the WOW participants. She said: “I joined the course because I felt it was the only course or training available for complete beginners.
“I had also signed up for a open water triathlon and then tried some OW swimming and had a massive panic in the water and this knocked my confidence.
“Thankfully, the course idea popped up not long after this incident and I am delighted because it have me much confidence and guidance. I was then able to put this into practice at the Mallaig Triathlon.
“The coaches where very patient, encouraging and supportive and recognised when I was panicking in the water and talked me into calming down. They understood my fears and changed them.”
A new challenge
Morag McFarlane also joined the course. She said: “Open water swimming was a personal challenge. I try to do something new every year instead of having a new year’s resolution not to do something.
“I know quite a few people who swim outdoors but I didn’t have the confidence or means to try it. It’s certainly not something you can do on your own.
“My other half bought me a wetsuit for Christmas last year as a nudge to get me into the water and at last I got a chance to use it.”
Morag found the course to be ideal for gradually building up to the point where she felt confident to get into the open water.
She said: “I absolutely hated swimming at Pinkston, I have to say, because I just couldn’t catch my breath and I was worried that I couldn’t swim without panicking.
“However, when we got to Loch Lomond it was a totally different story. It was just so relaxing. By the last week, I really amazed myself with how far we swam – and with my head under the water! – and all without touching the bottom.
“The support from all the other ladies really made the course, too, and there was a real sense of we are all in this together.
“After I got out the water I felt on a total natural high and even though it was a Friday night there was no need for the usual red wine to unwind.
“With a stressful job, this was the best benefit. I’m now preaching to anyone who will listen to get them to try it, too.”