Swimming Me HomeBy Emma Pearson
May 28, 2023
Photos my own
30 May 2022
A few weeks ago, I was on a Swim Trek holiday in Mallorca, putting in some training for my “big swim” planned for the middle of July – crossing the Lac Léman/Lake Geneva at its widest point (13 km – a smidge over 8 miles).
I do want to do it. Really, I do.
I don’t just want to have it done. (And of course, ideally, I would like lovely weather, next to no wind, calm waters, no cramp or any other pain. I hope that’s not too much to ask for).
It was a tough week, that week in Mallorca – both swimming-wise and socially. I wrote about how I realised I still couldn’t “do groups” just as that week’s adventure was drawing to a close.
But the swimming too was tough. It’s still quite early in the season for mere mortals to be out in open water, and I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to swimming in chilly water.
I am too used to swimming pools and their balmy 25+ deg C temperatures. Getting into open water is not the same thing. Even with a wetsuit. Even with my spanking new thermal wetsuit!
OMG I LOVE my new thermal wetsuit! It’s almost a dry suit. I was so cosy and warm.
I did a lot of swimming that week. A 4 km, 5 km, then a 10 km swim.
And for the first time ever, I felt sick swimming. Nauseous. I needed to vomit. The swell of the sea, the waves, the mouthfuls of salt water. Ugh. I had to stop.
A future Channel (any channel) swimmer I am not. It’s lovely to know where I have ambition, hopes, desires and wishes, and where I have none. NONE of my swimming dreams lie in me completing any big stretch of water other than that between Lausanne and Evian. But I do want to do that if I can, and so getting training in is a priority this year.
Back to the Mallorca training camp.
I was the second-to-oldest swimmer on the trip (the eldest was 2 years older), and I was the oldest who had a goal of actually completing the 10 km.
I was not the slowest, but I was certainly down with the slowest few. All of that was fine though, because the weather was good, the faster swimmers could do their thing, finish up their 10 km when I still had 2.5 km to go, get back on board the comfy boat, drink tea, coffee, tork, eat bananas and jelly babies and biscuits and whatever else you pine for after a long swim.
I was really quite happy during the swim. Present. Enjoying the water, stopping to look at cormorants on the rocks, smiling at the pretty fish.
I got twinges of cramp after the first 2 km, then every 500 m or so (such a bugger) but pivoting into breast-stroke, or flipping on to my back helped it go away each time. I was never totally immobilised, which can happen and is not at all fun.
Anyway, when I was finally into my last kilometre (we had been doing 1 km circuits of a bay), I became aware of one of the female swimmers nearby. I wasn’t sure who it was – she was clearly faster than me, but I find we all look much of a muchness when in our wetsuits.
My brain could not compute. I knew I was in my last round. I knew there were only two swimmers slower than me who were still trying to complete. I wasn’t slowing down. So no-one should be around me. No-one should be near me. And most definitely, no-one should be over-taking me. Not at that point. Anyone who was faster than me had finished. What was going on?
And then, as I turned away from the sandy beach that we were to swim along, back up the cliffs, we bumped into one another, (so very weird, as in a massive expanse of water, no bumping into one another should happen!). We both bobbed upright to check the other was okay, and she – who I recognised then to be Annabel – apologised profusely for not being more careful.
But what the heck was Annabel doing with me? She was so much faster than me! She had done so much open water swimming. She’d lapped me at least once and I knew she must be done. What was she doing here with me?
And then the penny dropped.
She’d got back into the water after she had finished her 10 km.
She was going for another lap.
She was accompanying me round.
Carefully behind me. Until she bumped into me.
She was swimming me home.
I started to feel quite sobby. Sobs and swimming don’t go well together. It’s not safe. Trust me.
So for the last 500m or so, I re-focused on the mantra I had been using on and off during the swim.
Imagining how Don, who loved Mallorca, would say to me, “Good going, keep going my dear friend”
How Ed would say to me, “Go chica, go big sis”
How Mike would say to me, “Well done lass, you’ve got this in you. I’m so proud”
And how Julia would say, “Mum – you’re mad. And you’re a good mum. And you’re mad”
I finished. I thanked Annabel for swimming me home. And I got into the boat.
Soon after I had finished my final lap, the slowest in our party, Elaine, came in for a feed, then set off for her final loop. I was still recovering, drinking tea, eating bananas, and yes, jelly babies (a delicious and extraordinary contrast to salty water) and was not up for more. But at least four of the faster swimmers who had all finished a while earlier – all women, I noticed – got back in to accompany Elaine on her final kilometre.
The sight of them surrounding her, protecting her, accompanying her, was beautiful to behold. They got further and further from view, disappeared out of sight, and eventually came back into view. Everyone still around her, like a pack of mammals protecting the vulnerable, injured, young or elderly, in the wild.
Swimming her home too.
I cheered and applauded, not just Elaine, but those who did an extra round (or rounds, in Annabel’s case).
The palpable support of being swum home.
It was the highlight of my week.
It is what I hope I do a little of in other domains of life. For others. In the land of grief and loss.
I can’t swim others home, because I am at the back of the pack.
But I can walk alongside, be alongside, in other tough, challenging periods of life.
It’s an honour. A privilege. It takes time and skill, generosity and tenacity.
I am so grateful when it’s offered to me.
And so very honoured when I can offer something similar to others.
2 thoughts on “Swimming Me Home”
Thank you for capturing this story of human generosity… which actually happens all the time…. and which our culture silences or disparages or dismisses or sloughs off…
… when in fact it is central to why we are all still here (at least, I think so!)
I feel you walking beside me so often Emma. Accompanying me in this mad job that I’m not sure I really want 1/2 the time. Definitely my last job.
Big scary and very hairy.
But I hear your words “inspire and be inspired” “you cannot and should not do it all” “think of the system not the people” and I do feel like you are by me and it’s not so much about my fear of failing but trying my best and learning from the experience.