Inclement weather, cold waters, a travel ban, closed swimming pools - he's faced it all. But nothing deters self-confessed swimming addict, Mark Harvey, from continuing Swim22 and raising funds for us this year.
57-year old Mark lives outside Chepstow and swims in Wales and the South West in lakes, rivers, seas, wherever and whenever he can. This is the second time Mark has embarked on Swim22 (extended until the end of October) and not even the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown have managed to dampen his enthusiasm for open water swimming.
“My father-in-law, Brian, is my main inspiration for Swim 22. He really was a lovely man: the ideal father-in-law. Brian battled diabetes throughout his later life. He was a big tough man who worked hard all of his life – his hands were rough and his grip was like iron! But Diabetes damaged him badly and was a major contributing factor in his eventual death”.
Mark said that he enjoys a challenge and, to make things a little more testing, for this year’s event he decided to swim the full distance outdoors under the clothing rules of the International Ice Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming Association. This means he was only allowed to wear a standard swimsuit (not a wet suit), a single swim cap, goggles, and ear plugs. Outdoor water temperatures at the start of the challenge in February are between 3 and 5°, and February-April are the coldest months for swimming outdoors.
Mark decided to do the challenge outdoors because he has become “addicted” to open water swimming.
“Being outside, in the wild, in freezing cold water, with the world and nature around you, it’s just fantastic. You can swim from dawn to dark seven days a week. There isn’t that dreadful smell of chlorine, or hundreds of other swimmers, or the horrible heat of a leisure centre. I could wax lyrical forever, but I can sum it up in just a line: it puts a smile on your face that lasts the whole day.”
Overcoming obstacles to keep on swimming
The first obstacle Mark faced was the storms and floods early in the year.
“The cold is tough, but the hardest struggle was finding water to swim in! My usual rivers for swims are the Wye, Usk, and the Monnow, but these were in a dreadful state, not safe to swim in and were a horrible manky colour.”
Until the rivers improved, Mark took to the sea and the lakes in the Brecon Beacons to begin this year’s challenge. The coronavirus outbreak put paid to all of Mark’s plans, particularly as accessing open water of any type was impossible because of the ban on unnecessary travel.
“My last open water swim before lockdown was in the River Wye in late-March. I couldn’t swim properly again until travel restrictions were lifted in late June in England which allowed me to swim in the Marine Lake in Clevedon and the sea off Weston-Super-Mare. As soon as I was able to access water I started to swim every day and soon started clocking up the miles. I hit double distance in late June.”
Despite being able to swim in England, Mark desperately missed the rivers and lakes in Wales.
“I was so happy when Wales at last lifted the travel ban on 6 July: In fact, my wife and I were so excited, we went for a sunrise swim in the Brecons to celebrate on the very day the restrictions were lifted.”
One of the main “unwritten” rules of open water swimming is that you can’t swim alone so many times he goes with his wife or friends and belongs to “Wye not Swim?".
“Water can be incredibly cold and the environment, although not always dangerous, should never be taken for granted. You should always have someone with you, even if they’re not swimming.”
Mark swims in Wales in places, such as the Brecons, Blue Lagoon, Barry and Harlech and in other locations, as far North as the Outer Hebrides in Scotland and Loch Ness.
“I love swimming at Barry(badoes). My wife and I often hire a beach hut for the day and take a heater, a kettle, and a toaster. Fab fun. But Harlech beach will always be special to me – my wife and I were students at Coleg Harlech when we first met. Harlech beach is spectacularly beautiful. And where else can you swim in the view of a snow-capped mountain?”
Open water swimmers are an incredibly friendly bunch, he added:
“If you want to start just look up a local group and swim with them. You’ll always be made very welcome, and the members of these groups have a deep well of experience for you to take from. Open water swimming is totally all inclusive: we come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. Yes, maybe we’re all just a little bit crazy, but in a really nice way.”
Mark is doing something he really enjoys, that enhances his physical and mental wellbeing, which also has a social side, while raising money and awareness to “stop diabetes from harming us and our loved ones”, he concluded.
Mark’s tips for open water swimming:
- never swim alone
- take time to acclimatise and build resilience to the cold water over months
- if you’re swimming where there are sailing craft - even canoes - wear a bright colour swim hat and use a tow float.