Saturday, 21 September 2013

European Masters - Eindhoven

My mother arrived to give me a lift to the airport, half an hour before I asked her to - in typical fashion, she didn't listen and did her own sweet thing.

I felt sick enough without her flapping about being late.
I was excited, I was nervous, I was giddy, I was proud.  I didnt need to win the race - cos lets face it, that was never gonna happen.
I needed to start and I needed to finish.

It would be nice to PB and it would be nice to not come last - but I was under no illusion, there would be some fricking awesome swimmers competing, ex Olympians right through to people like me.

But in that instant while i was at home, I had another challenge.  I was travelling alone and felt a little bit squick about it.
It was always part of the plan though.  Something I had to do for me.  It all added to the giddy kipperish feeling n the butterflies that were doing tumble-turns.
I had travelled alone before,  it was no big deal.  I just needed to be organised. 

I fooloshly verbalised that I was feeling a bit sick as we pulled up to the airport.
"You dont have to do this, you dont have to go" was her response.


She wasnt kidding either - she wanted me to stay at home.

At what point of being a little bit giddy/terrified/nervous/proud/tired/hungry am I going to say, oh i feel sick, i'll just stay at home instead.  Yeah..... Do that. 

Somehow despite my mothers lack of faith in my ability, I successfully navigated my way through the airport (both Leeds/Bfd and Schipol) without disaster, found the train station, bought a ticket, caught a train, travelled to the other end of Holland, got off at the right stop and found my hotel. 
Whoda thunk it? I'm brilliant.

I went for an explore and walked the route i would be racing.
God it seemed a long way.  It was only 3k. But point to point made it seem longer somehow.
It was a glorious course starting in lush green surroundings, swimming into the city - the landscape slowly becoming more urban as the finish appraoched.

On the morning of the race, I was filled with calm - well, calm ish. 
I knew the time had come to realise a dream.. It was a big deal for me.  I had met some amazing people already in Eindhoven and I had some fantastic people at home.

The Russians tried to cause mayhem asking everyone to boycott as they couldn't race due to not registering, some of the women were refusing to cut their nails having had them done specially for the occasion.

Somehow it ran like clockwork and before i knew it, it was time.  This was it.

In usual fashion, I established a stroke rate i was 'comfortable with' and settled in.  I spent a long time talking to myself, relaxing myself, stretching out, catching the water, pulling, rotating, smiling, enjoying.

I found myself singing Aerosmith, Amazing.  The lyrics fit the situation perfectly.
Songs tend to choose me rather than me choosing them - they fill my head when I race.  When I reflect on them after an event or situation (or look up the lyrics when i have had one line wedged in my head for hours), I tend to find they are reflections of my emotions at the time.  'Amazing' fit the whole journey perfectly - from non swimmer to Eindhoven.

By this point I am completely relaxed, I am a little sad that some people have coaches, partners, spouses, friends walking the course along the canal - and in that instant I know that I have people walking the course with me.  The only difference being, they were at home cheering, they were in my heart.  They have shaped who I have become. My soul shone and smiled.... and i swam....

No matter how much I relaxed, dug in, stretched, pulled, kicked, I couldnt reach the girl in front.  

It didnt matter - I was winning my own race with myself - and as it turned out, I wasnt last to cross the line in my age group. There were some bloody amazing times.  It was an honour to swim with such a variety of people.  I will meet some of them again at the Nationals, if I make it to the Worlds in Montreal.... who knows.  There are goals to be readjusted. 

Why stop at the Europeans?  I dont have to be the best.  I just have to be the best version of me I can be.

As I crossed the line, I cried.  When i spoke to the ManShape, I cried some more and again when I spoke to my friends.

I might not make it to Canada next year, although it is part of the plan and has been for a while - I will have a defined goal for the Europeans in London in 2016.  It would be VERY rude not to swim in the Olympic pool.....


Friday, 20 September 2013

Next Chapter

I was blessed enough to go on a mini adventure recently and I fully intend on blogging about my awesome experiences in deepest darkest Wales, jelly-fish hunting in wonderful wonderful Copenhagen and of course my little splish in Eindhoven (followed by the extended mooch round Amsterdam).

However, life has other plans for me.  It is in a state of shift at the minute and everything is a little chaotic with no routine just yet. 

My secondment is coming to an end - next week in fact.  I have 2 shifts left to work.

I can't begin to explain how mixed my feeling are about this.
I will miss the kids. A very large lot. There will be a little hole in my life - I know other kids will fill it, but I have loved a couple of these kids for a long time now. 
I was originally seconded for 3 months - that was 2 n half years ago....

I have been on a bumpy journey at the Home I work in currently.  Its been hard.  There have been a million managers (slight exagggeration, there have been 756, 329). There have been battles with kids, other professionals, neighbours and staff alike.  There have been poor Ofsted reports which we have turned around to be good across the board.  There have been tears and fighting and giggles and holibobs.
There are now friendships with people who radiate warmth and loveliness from every pore - they are outstanding at their job.  I truely hope their shiny doesn't get dulled in the years to come by the cynics.

I went in with the intention of infecting some people with my eternal optimism. 
I know I have been successful on some level.  I know I have touched a few lives in a positive way.  I can see it happening and there have been shifts in attitude in staff, calmness in the kids.
I hope it lives on after I have gone - and I think it will. 

I wanted to turn the Ofsted around and that has been accomplished, the kids have left school and started college.  My work here is done.

The next chapter sees me going back to my old place of work as Residential Care Officer.  I get to play out with the kids again. Whoop!!! New lives to infect with magic and mentalness.

The team hasnt changed much since I have been away - so I know what I am going into.  I know who will bitch and bite, who will poke and provoke, who will laugh and love.

However, I am not the person I was.  I have grown so very much, I have grown in every way.
In the years that I have been away, I found the courage to face the skeletons that were living in my cupboard and destroyed the demons.  I have set goals and achieved them... and I am still growing.

Half Outlaw 2014 is entered, I am giving thought to which will be my full Ironman in 2015, I have been saving for the World Masters next year, and I have agreed to one way Windemere next year.  I need to find, no, make, time to train.... and sleep.    

My life is full.  Very full.

I have applied for another secondment as deputy - this time part time, so if I am successful, my role and buildings will be split (God knows how that will work - shifts in 2 locations?!? WT actual F??)
I have just been offered a place at Uni part time to complete a management qualification, I am starting my swimming coaching qualification soon.... and somewhere in that I need time for my friends - who of course have full complicated lives.....   That doesn't even include time for sitting in front of the fire painting, reading and contemplating why my bellybutton fluff is always the same colour.
I am a little bit sad to be leaving - but i know i will be leaving a little bit of myself behind and moving forwards - and in this case, it literally means taking a step back.

If I don't get the secondment post, that will be fine. 

I have enough going on to keep me out of trouble..... for now at least.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

I am alive

I set a goal in December 2010, somewhere between stopping smoking and being too poorly to commit suicide.

Depression was eating me alive. Literally. And had been since somewhere before my 30th in June that year. My mental health was in tatters and I hit the point where I could no longer bear to listen to the noise and voices that plagued me constantly.

My amazing friend Signe (@signj) had bought me my first open water swim as my 30th present, to challenge me and prove that life was good.
I completed Great Salford Swim in Sept 2010 in 44.53 doing what I call 'old lady breaststroke' I was wearing a £3 eBay shorty surfing wetsuit. I beat the goal I had set myself by 7 seconds.

At that point I was a couple of stone heavier, a drink, a smoker n exercise was an alien concept.

But I loved swimming in open water. I loved it almost as much as I hated it.... So much so I wanted to be good at it. It had cast a spell on me n I was hooked.

I started to teach myself how to swim crawl and decided to stop smoking, all the while looking at other races I could do.

That first race was in the September, I was still consumed by depression, living a half life. It was getting better slowly, but as winter set its dark n gloomy clutches on me, as Christmas loomed and as the Champix kicked on to help me kill my nicotine monster once and for all.... It all became too much.

Luckily for me, I got the flu.
I was house bound, trapped with only my monsters for company, having a constant conversation with the voice of doom that lived within.

By the time I had the energy to obey the voice and silence the monsters, my will to survive had grown a little, it wasnt quite a will to live, but it was a start.

I chose life..... And I set a goal.

In the Jan of 2011, Brigadoom (properly aka Brighouse) opened a new pool and gym. It was in my route to work n had access to Stroke Skills, SwimFit and Gym programmes. Whoop! I joined.

I remember approaching Jill (my coach) on the poolside at my first stroke skills class and telling her my goal.  "I want to be an age group open water swimmer. I want to be good at it. I want to do it by the time I am 35"

She didn't laugh at me.
"We can do it before then" was her response.
She hasn't seen me swim at this point. I could barely manage 50m free.

And yet somehow, she believed in me.

We have worked, my times have dropped. We both admit I am a distance swimmer, I am NOT built for speed. I hate training, I hate competing, but I love what both things give me.

I have learned so much about myself while reaching this point. The emotional journey has been immense!!
I have grown in confidence in all areas of my life, outgrown friends and relationships and developed professionally. I have faced n killed a large amount of monsters.

I have learned I am strong.
I am stronger and braver than I dared to believe.
I discovered that I am more than a little bit weird - and I am ok with that - weird is good.
Weird says, I know who I am and I'm proud to be me.
I have learned that I am worth so much more than I previously thought.
I'm worth the best.

Along the way, I have met some amazing people (and continue to do so and be inspired by everyone's story) I am blessed to love some of these people and call them my friends.

I discovered that in the water, for what I think was the first time in my life, I was accepted.
I am accepted. I feel at home.
I belong.
My physical flaws are exposed in all their lumpy-bumpy glory. It's not possible to hide under the water. I don't need to.
I am held by the water, I am contained, I am safe.

The friends I have made are all a touch odd in their own way, all are a little eccentric, all have shiny souls of epically gargantuan proportions and all ridicule, torment and laugh at one another at every available opporchancity.... But the support is like nothing I have ever experienced.

It is unconditional. It is awesome.
Some of those I swim with, my friends, some of them don't know that they saved my life each day for a very long time.

You will never realise the importance of your presence in my life.

I really am a lucky lady.
I truly am grateful for your friendship and everything it brings (generally food!! ... Haribo... Beige food....)

And so to the swim....
I don't think for a second I will do very well.
I may even be last in my age group.
But that's ok.
That's more than ok in fact.
I am here. In Eindhoven. At the European Masters.
I am alive.

I chose life.... And life is good.

In fact, life is fricking awesome. My life is fricking awesome.