When I’m swimming, especially when I’m swimming in the lake, I get the sensation of another swimmer on my right hand side. It makes it all the stranger as I only breathe to my left, so I rarely look right. It sometimes comes out of nowhere and catches me by surprise, but then I realise what it is and it’s all ok again. Of course when someone is actually swimming next to me on my right hand side that then catches me by surprise all over again.
I was thinking about it more while I was swimming on Saturday and trying to work out what it is. I narrowed it down to three options:
– A bit of my goggles strap dangling in the water and catching my eye
– A reflection of my left arm in the goggles (or my right arm under water)
– The ghost of my grandfather swimming alongside me
My grandad was one of the pioneers of open water swimming and a founder member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA). While I don’t consider my decision to start swimming to be directly influenced by him – I don’t think I’m doing it in his honour – I am aware that without his involvement in the sport I would never have started.
When I was a kid we spent lots of summer weekends travelling up and down the country to watch swims. My grandad, by then, was more involved on the beach (or boat) than in the water, but he’d also persuaded both my parents to get involved too (although both of them stayed dry throughout their BLDSA ‘careers’). In the summer that I turned seven my dad was the President of the BLDSA, so they went to pretty much every swim, and my brother and I joined them for nearly all of them.
I loved that. I loved being the son of someone important. I loved watching all the people get ready for their swims. I loved getting to go on the launch boats and watch the swimming close up. And I also loved selling programmes on the beach and telling all the tourists what was going on (especially at the Bala swim). But at the same time the water looked cold and the swims were long and I thought that the people who took part were pretty stupid.
I’m still not sure that anyone that swims for that long in water that cold isn’t a bit stupid.
During this period my grandad and his friends were the lifeblood of the Association. My grandad was a fairly unassuming man, but there were people such as my ‘uncle’ Johnny who could never be described as unassuming. As a seven-year old I just hung around with them all and soaked it all up.
My decision to swim Windermere was inspired by my grandad. A couple of years ago my cousins and I were thinking about doing ‘something’ and because of grandad’s love of swimming and because of the special place that Windermere has in the hearts of swimmers it seemed like the right thing for his grandkids to aim towards. In the end, for a variety of reasons, there were only two of us that set off to swim Windermere and I was the only one that completed it.
I was thinking and talking about my grandad much more recently. On the SwimTrek training trip I recently went on a few of the people there knew him, so we chatted a bit about him (I also spent some of the trip trying to ‘defend’ the BLDSA – and of course I can’t avoid thinking about him then).
Again, while I’m not doing this ‘for’ my grandad and I am very aware that he has inspired some of this in me. I also know that if we was still alive he’d certainly be very pleased that I have followed in his footsteps (or possibly trunks!), he may even be proud of me too.
But of course he’s not swimming alongside me, it’s just the strap of my goggles.