Sink or swim!


After three months of training – largely consisting of me ‘re-learning’ how to swim the front crawl properly – it was finally time to literally take the plunge. I stood on the hill next to my wife, simply staring out towards the lake at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, shocked at the sheer distance between the launch pontoon and the starting buoys!

The swim had always been the real test. I was entering the ‘Super Sprint’ Triathlon at Blenheim – designed for the first-timers and older participants – I definitely fell into the first category and for some, the second category also!

Four hundred metres in the lake was going to be a massive challenge for me. The truth is, I had never swum that distance before without either touching the sand in the sea or resting at the end of the pool for a few seconds at least.

There was no turning back now and in a strange way, that sort of comforted me in the midst of the palpable fear I was feeling. I knew I was a far better swimmer than I had been prior to my training but would it be enough?

I had learnt techniques designed to help me swim further, using less energy, but I also knew that in open water there was the distinct possibility that all of that would disappear and it would simply be a swim for survival!

As it happens, that is exactly what happened, as I set off after the claxon rang out across the water. Encouragingly, loads of other swimmers were doing the same as me: front crawl but heads out of the water. I later spoke with other inexperienced, open water swimmers who said they put their head under the water once and their brain to them, “Forget that!”

By the time I got to the end of the swim, I was utterly exhausted and grabbed the arm of one of the volunteers helping anyone to get out who needed assistance. I collapsed onto a nearby bench to stop myself from falling over altogether.

After a minute or so, I began the 400-metre climb to the transition point to collect my bike and then spotted something that made me feel like it had been placed there just for me. It was a classic Winston Churchill quote, with his indomitable face above it, saying, “Never, never, never give up!”

I was so relieved to have completed the swim. All I had to do now was jump on the bike and enjoy the fabulous views around the estate, and then grind out the run, which I knew would be a slow pace but definitely achievable.

By the time I crossed the finish line, one hour and 18 minutes after I had made that first tentative strokewith my name announced over the PA system, my arms in the airI was one happy, somewhat emotional and definitely tired man. I had done what I said I would do – completed (not competed) in my first triathlon and now I could relax!

You may well be asking yourself, why on earth did you put yourself through such pain as well as face a genuine fear factor? The answer is simple.

I have known pain and fear in my own life of course. Who hasn’t?

But compared to the pain and fear that I only read about, or sometimes hear about first hand, from some of the most vulnerable people in the world helps me to keep lots of things in perspective.

If I can do something, anything, that helps raise the profile of what we do at Viva to try and eradicate that truly awful pain and suffering, then that must be worth it.

So keep on doing whatever you can do to raise funds for Viva and, who knows, maybe like me, you will learn how to finally swim properly – even if it is restricted to the swimming pool!


Congratulate Paul and support the work of Viva by giving via his fundraising page.

There are lots of ways that you can fundraise for Viva – and it doesn’t have to mean getting your feet wet. Email Liz or call 01865 811660 to find out more, or click here to download our fundraising pack.