World Learn to Swim Day | 15th May
by Nikki Bartlett
Hi everyone and welcome to another one of my articles with my fabulous sponsors Neuff Red. If you missed my ‘Pro life training diary’ article in March check it out here.
Today we are celebrating ‘World Learn to Swim Day’ which is celebrated every third Saturday of May yearly. Did you know that 1 in every 5 adults cannot swim (ASA swimming 2020)?! Well luckily I’m an honest person and love to share my story. From learning how to swim when I came into the sport as a complete novice chopper, to now a Professional Triathlete with 15 x podium performances, and IRONMAN Lanzarote and IRONMAN Dun Laoghaire 70.3 Champion in 2019.
What is ‘World Learn to Swim’ Day?
As I mentioned above, this day is celebrated every third Saturday of May yearly. It's an important day as is aims to raise awareness about the importance of learning to swim, whether you’re a child, or adult. Age is no barrier. But also the importance of water safety, and how learning to swim is a key life skill. It's never too late to learn...
My Swimming Story
Hopefully my story will allow adults reading this to realise, it's really not too late to give swimming a go. I started triathlon as a complete novice. Yes, that also meant I could barely swim. For clarity I could float, get myself to safety, but I definitely couldn’t swim properly. I could make a splash for survival, but certainly making no lengths in the pool. I went from making a splash, to learning how to swim, and I’m now a Professional Triathlete. If I can learn, trust me, so can you.
Learning to Swim
I will never forget learning how to swim, as there’s also a little romance in this story too. Bex (now my other half, fiancé and 9 years together) taught me how to swim. She will never forget asking about my background and what I was wanting achieve.
I managed to get about 4 lengths done in my first session with some lane rope hogging. Safe to say we didn’t speak much again after this, haha! I did however have another go at swimming when two friends wanted to try and teach me. We rocked up at a beach in what I thought was a wetsuit (it was in fact a body boarding suit with no sleeves or legs), and I just kept getting washed to the shore. This lesson didn’t last long, and we spent more time in the coffee shop after.
6 months later and I went on my first ever Triathlon training camp in 2012 when I decided my swimming was so good (jokes), I wanted to give triathlon a crack and stop rowing. Who’s there, Bex. A clear sign. Our first session of the camp to my horror was a 3k point to point swim. Oh gosh help!!! Oh my days it was terrible. Everyone swam off, finished, had breakfast and on their bikes by the time I even finished. It was about 3k / 2hours of getting washed onto the beech, ’swimming’ back out, repeated a million times. Bex waited for me. She saw something in my ‘athletic’ ability that day - determination. I never looked back. My next swim session was 6 x 100m off 5mins, coming in on 2min and 45 seconds. I was in for the long haul of learning how to swim and be a triathlete. The challenge of it motivated me so much, the unknown of where I could take the sport and how far I could go...
Getting into Swimming
We all know in day-to-day life, that anything we do, from getting out of bed, to starting a training session, the first step is ALWAYS the hardest. So getting into swimming is by far the hardest part - making that first step to a new environment. I am hugely passionate about sharing the journey with people and so I would always recommend enlisting the help / support of a friend or family member. We are really fortunate in the UK that in most local swimming pools there is an adult learn-to-swim program. I would highly recommend this as starting out with expert advice to begin with can save you having to undo a lot of bad habits later down the line. Also by being under the watchful eye of an expert it can help you to feel safe and supported. Once you have nailed the basics and can swim a length or two, that’s where the fun really starts. The sky’s the limit from there!
Don’t be Afraid to Start Swimming
As I mentioned above, there is no age barrier to learn how to swim. It's actually one of the most empowering movements you can learn, and one of the best feelings is floating in open water in a beautiful location taking in your stunning surroundings. It’s also one of the best sports to do - no matter what the weather is doing. In fact, swimming in the lochs in Scotland (as long as the water temp was manageable ;-) ) with rain drops was one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever done. You can't beat the scenery in Scotland, but on a dull dark day there, whilst cycling and running you often couldn't see the scenery. BUT you could always see the landscape whilst swimming.
I can definitely relate to feeling almost embarrassed starting so late, but I promise, there is always someone your age, younger or older learning to swim too, and the journey is remarkable.
Focus on the Benefits and Rewards of Learning to Swim
There are so many benefits to swimming, for health not just physically, but mentally too. Having confidence to go into the sea on holidays, lakes, streams and also the huge benefits of understanding the importance of swimming as an essential life skill. You never know when you might just need to swim yourself to safety.
As a Triathlete (I think a lot will nod their heads here) swimming is often the one sport of the three that you will always be physically able to do. When I have a niggle, it's often taking me out of running or cycling, or even both, so I will increase swimming, or even aqua jog too. It's a fantastic sport for low impact, and gaining a sense of understanding your body's movement patterns over an element (the water).
One of the greatest parts for me is the people you meet and friendships / relationships for life. It's how I met Bex and some of my fave people in life / friendships made are through sport. The community side to sport is by far THE BEST part of being a Professional Athlete. You will make friends for life and ALWAYS, ALWAYS find people similar to your level of ability.
Key Tips when Starting to Swim
1. Get the Right Swim Gear
Without a doubt comfort is key. If we aren’t comfortable then all you can think about is not actually swimming, but how uncomfortable your wetsuit / swimsuit is. Check out the range of kit on the Neuff Red website and get in touch with us for any advice.
2. Consistency is Key
Like with anything in life, consistency is key. Work out how much time you have free around family, work, life and if that’s 2 x 30min swims a week, do that consistently over a long period of time and you will reap the rewards.
Good Luck with your Swimming
I hope one person reading this can be inspired to give swimming a go, and realise that anything is possible. The journey, the people you meet, the friendships, relationships and stories will far outweigh any of the barriers stopping you from starting.
Happy World Learn to Swim Day everyone!
About Nikki Bartlett
Nikki has always been passionate about sport. Having started out at university on the GB Rowing World Class System, Nikki moved into triathlon in her early-twenties and rapidly rose up the ranks to 2019 when she won IM Lanzarote & IM Dun Laoghaire 70.3. We can't wait to see her back on the world stage in 2021.