When i first met Anna, she was almost grey with nerves but these were accompanied by a huge grin and a babble of words that fell out of her mouth with abundance. Accompanied by her mum Sue..Anna was here to have a lesson, her first in open water swimming.
We has talked on the phone, Anna's great sense of humour even brighter in person, her 'can do, will do' attitude is infectious. Anna has a goal, to swim 500m in the Great North Swim. My goal, to give her the skills to enable her to do it.
Devising a plan to get Anna into her wetsuit, ....it consisted with alot of tugging, pulling and pushing but we got there...subsequent fittings got easier as we perfected it....with me apologising constantly for potentially nipping her skin...Mum however squeezed into her wetsuit in no time at all...if anyone had heard the banter not to mention a few choice words in the changing rooms at Ellerton the would have thought we were killing her..but like i say we got there in the end with no blood spilt!
Wetsuits on...water temp...a tad chilly!!! Anna safely in her wheelchair...me driving it (not so safe!) we headed the short distance to the jetty, next feat, getting the gloves and goggles on! That done (no broken fingers...phew!) and it was a gentle manoeuvre to get Anna to the steps. Carefully making her way into the water, the coolness taking her breath, the smile even bigger...she was in...and loving it. Taking Anna through the basics of acclimatisation .....her mum sliding in the water beside her, the water really was 'fresh' shall we say! This was followed by teaching Anna how to make perfect use of her wetsuit and allow it to do its job after all that is what they are there for.
Thankfully the sun was shining adding to the open water experience...sunny days can really make a difference especially when the water is 'fresh'. Bringing Anna round to the side of the jetty, one of the biggest issues we found was returning her legs to the floor, Not only were we fighting the buoyancy of the wetsuit but Anna's MS meant that at times certain parts of her body decide not to play ball, it was a scenario that was to be repeated many times...thankfully Anna did not mind us manhandling her into various positions! A short swim this time just to get her using to moving in the wetsuit and the water conditions and it was back to the changing rooms...not before almost tipping her out of the wheelchair twice over the bumps....clearly need practice there!!!
A shivering Anna was placed under the showers, her grin bigger than ever, eyes shining ....but in need of warm clothing and a hot drink...how to get the wetsuit off without pinching the skin, causing bruises or knocking her over...in the end it was decided...just go for it!!! Firmly placed on the benches and pretty much shoved into clothing and we were done.
At home it was for me to devise a cunning plan of action to ensure that Anna not only achieves her goal but that she does it with as much ease as possible ...and more importantly that she enjoys it! Plan of action decided, Anna would have a team in the water with her to make sure that she stays on track, one of the difficulties we faced was enabling Anna to swim in a straight line while at the same time now crowding her and impeding her swim. The helpers i decided would be at hip level, close enough to react and get her back on track but far enough away that she had the freedom in the water that she needed. Mum Sue, was to be one of those assisting in the water and it was ideal that she was there every swim so that the technique could be practised and perfected. Anna was to ignore all touching of her legs unless we actually grabbed her to stop her and this would only be done as a safety aspect, the helpers were to gently push Anna in the required direction, touching her only from hip to shoulder.
The MS that Anna has is progressive, she was diagnosed 11 years ago and does she let it stop her...does she heck..for her life is game on, to fit as much in as possible and to make it as magical as possible! The MS as you can imagine tires her out ...fast so not only was i getting her used to swimming but for a while until her tolerance rose we had limited in-water time before she became to tired to swim...a visual sign that we came to recognise was the failing of one arm to rise out of the water
Another feature is that Anna struggles to raise her head out of the water to breath...i did tell her that breathing was optional but i didn't think she would take it so literally....as the length of time increased in the water so did the distances that she could achieve and over time she was getting closer to our target distance of 500 metres! As with all people we have good days and bad days, thankfully the bad days were rare but Anna's determination won out and every time regardless she got into the wetsuit and into the water. John the lake owner avidly followed her progress, he is proud of the swimmers that use the lake and takes an active interest in their success, every week an update of her progress was given and every week the nod and smile of a happy man was given!
With the days and months passing fast we were now only left with a matter of weeks to ensure success, Anna and Sue turned up at the lake in fresh, determined mode..we were game on for a serious distance swim. The weather was bright and the water great, a slight breeze to add to the fun. Wetsuit donned and into the water she went....the same grin on her face as from the start of her coaching, the water it seems had worked its magic on her and she was hooked! With me suited up but on the jetty, Sue in the water and Anna with a fierce look of determination on her face, instruction was given and off she went, today her body as strong as her mind. Soon she was eating up the distance in the water as easily as can be. Turning to breath with mum supporting her head so she could grab valuable oxygen before spinning herself over and regaining balance so she could carry on swimming. Once tired we pushed on til we were close to the distance then it was out and into the showers...Anna in mischievous mode buoyed on by her latest success!
Heading to the Langdale Chase Hotel, owned by close friend Thomas G Noblett (himself a channel swimmer and infamously known as the Gladiator), i wanted Anna to have a swim in Windermere not far from the actual swim venue itself. Entering any event can be daunting especially as the 'big day' approaches and i find it best to get people in the lake to dispel many of the anxieties they may have. The day was not the best, wind making the water choppy, a rather grey affair to be honest. A quick cup of tea to warm up in preparation to swim and it was kit on and down to the waters edge were we were met by a rather fine boat moored up, its owner clearly curious at our antics.
Getting as quickly as we could the water had a bite to it, there was no hanging around bobbing and chatting to be done, we had a job to do. Swimming in a straight line without marker buoys to aid us was fab fun...lots of nudging to be done and a new heightened awareness of the task in hand was given to all...the big day was not that far off!!!! Getting changed in the breeze was fun...Anna naturally took it all in her stride as she sat shivering and grinning whilst snuggled up in the warmth of her Dryrobe!