“Yes, you can!”
A little while back I watched a video of Team Hoyt (father Dick and son Rick Hoyt) take part in the grueling Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. Rick has cerebral palsy and during competition Dick pulled Rick in a special boat as they swam, carried him in a special seat in the front of a bicycle, and pushed him in a special wheelchair as they run. Like most, I was blown away by what this duo had achieved. The love and connection between this father and son moves me to tears every time.
That was the moment Team Hoyt inspired me to do a similar swim with my daughter Athina. We often run and cycle together but Athina is too little to swim my usual distances. By attempting this, we hoped that as Mother and Daughter we could explore the wonders of open water swimming together.
We sat down one evening and decided how we were going to make this happen. Athina drew a beautiful picture. That was it; half the job done!
For 2016 we set ourselves various sporting adventures hoping to raise valuable funds for children with cancer through the Jane Tomlinson appeal so the 5km Swim/kayak pull challenge was to become one of our many adventures this year.
Next we needed a lake, a kayak and a swimming expert on board. I approached one of my ‘Dream building’ friends; known as Coach Morg (Triathlon & Open Water Swimming Coach). I spoke to him about our plan and with no hesitation he suggested we tested the theory.
One cold October day we met at the Blue Lagoon lake in Pontefract and Coach Morg delivered again. He had everything ready for me: the lake, the Kayak, the rope and even a fabulous sports photographer (Graham Beardsley) his images are stunning and his work speaks volumes about why he's a top UK photographer.
The first lap with an empty kayak was too easy and unrealistic. Coach Morg added rocks and other bulky items and I went for another test-lap across the lake; that was more like it. After a 500m swim we were satisfied that this challenge was both insane and do-able :)
The date was set for the 7.5.16. The week before, TeamAA went shopping for the essentials: a floating rope from our local hardware store, a quick release diver’s belt, a life vest for Athina and a captain’s hat of course! Bobby bear joined us on our mission to conquer the Blue Lagoon Lake and Athina also had a book to read, a generous packed lunch and a handmade megaphone so she could communicate with me while I swam.
When the day finally arrived, the weather was glorious and the water a little chilly at around 11 degrees. The previous week was snowing down so we had to remind ourselves how lucky we were with the unpredictable English weather.
Athina pulled a brave face as she sat with her life vest inside the kayak and Coach Morg gave me the thumbs up that he was watching us and it was time to go. As I tied the rope onto my waist and the other end onto the kayak I watched head’s turn; apparently a few jaws dropped when they heard what we were about to do.
Despite only having swam once during winter and still recovering from 2 viruses that lasted over 15 days, I was too determined to be doubtful and too optimistic to be fearful. Adrenaline was definitely running through my blood and it was time for the magic to happen!
The 5km consisted of 10 laps and it was all going fairly well to start with, I was even humming to myself ‘five little ducks went swimming one day’ until 2 hours later when I got to lap 6-7, hunger kicked in and the energy levels significantly dropped; I had to refuel quickly. I approached the kayak and asked Athina for my cereal bar and the energy gel. ‘Mama, it wasn’t really tasty’ she said with a grin on her face and handed me the remaining ¼ of it!!! (This was after she had already finished a hot dog, a piece of fruit, a yogurt and her own cereal bar).
What can I say? She’s a hungry little bear :) Luckily she wasn’t keen on my energy gel but that wasn’t going to keep me going for a lot longer.
The minute I stopped I sensed my body temperature drop and pulling a kayak required energy so with no food available I had to swim quicker. I guess this was the point when I could have stopped, the point where I could have worried about all the things that can go wrong but the message to my daughter was stronger: Never quit-
Athina riding on the kayak behind me proved to be the strength I needed to complete this challenge. For the remaining hour she shouted:
Go Mama Go! Arms higher Mama! Well done Mama, keep going!
Truth be said, with water in my ears, a thick swim cap and 3m apart from each other I couldn’t hear what she was saying but I did recognised the encouraging voice and the high pitched ‘Mama’ every now and again.
We are proud to say that together as a team we completed the 5km Swim/Kayak pull challenge in exactly 3 hours. This adventure had a shaping effect on us and we made another generous deposit in our happy memory bank as well as help raise funds for our charity.
We wish to thank the Blue Lagoon for letting us use their lake and Coach Morg for his belief in the completion of our (yet!) most outrageous challenge. His confidence was paramount to achieving our dream. Thank you-
P.S. Athina says when she turns 18 she will take me for a little ‘spin’ across the same lake. She says I can lay back and rest my arms; I recorded her promise in case she changes her mind :)