As if she doesn’t already do enough for The Rivers Trust, Michelle has decided to fundraise for us in the lead-up to the event on the 26th of June. Click here to donate to Michelle’s fundraiser for cleaner, healthier rivers.
“Your body will remember what to do” said my friend and swimming coach Row Clarke as she looked over my rusty front crawl stroke at Clevedon’s Marine Lake this week. I’ve recruited Row to help polish my technique ahead of my training for the 5km Wild Dart swim which I’ve entered at the end of June to raise money for The Rivers Trust’s campaign for clean rivers.
Row is right – this will all come back to me as I’ve been here before. Back in 2016 I swam the River Dart 10k, having completed months of training to get my fitness and endurance up to scratch, and it was great to feel as fit and healthy as I could be back then. Now however, after months of lockdown and no easy access to clean water to train in, I’m definitely out of shape!
My local river is deep enough to swim in, but it is polluted with farm runoff and sewage from upstream combined sewer overflows (CSOs), something I know only too well having worked on the map that shows the scale of this problem nationally. My daughters are also keen swimmers and love dipping outdoors, but we only swim in our local river during summer months when sunlight kills off harmful bacteria and when there hasn’t been recent rain carrying pollution into the river. Now that we have seen the data about how often untreated sewage is discharged, it is clear this doesn’t just happen when it’s been raining, so it is hard to know when the water is clean enough to swim in.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been taking samples of the water where I swim to a local lab to test for harmful bacteria. Many times, these levels are above the bathing water standard and so present a health risk. I’m always really torn when reporting these results to people who want to enter the water – on the one hand I want lots more people to enjoy nature because then they will help to protect it. On the other hand, I am also passionate about telling the truth, and uncomfortable as it may be to admit this, many of our rivers are not fit to swim in much of the time.
I swim for the many health benefits – not just overall fitness from the exercise, but also swimming outdoors really supports my mental health. Many of us are juggling so many things between work and home life, and it is easy to become burnt out. For me, cold water swimming is a fantastic mental reset and it has been great to get back in the water after several months and realise that my body does remember what to do, and to feel my mood lifting. I’m looking forward to the next few months of training.
Keep your eyes peeled for Michelle's next blog, and cheer her on with a donation if you're able to!