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Swimming + Me | #2


In February we published the first account of Swimming + Me by Mark Gabriel.

This month our good friend, Emily Campbell, steps into the spotlight to tell us all about her relationship with swimming.



I am the great granddaughter of a long line of East Coast Lifeboat men. Men who were fishermen during the day, making a living from being on water, and lifeboat men in their off time.

I never learnt to swim, I did however learn to sail and kayak. I have never been scared of the water and didn't mind bobbing about in it, but hells bells don't ask me to move around in it.

Kayaking became my first love at 13. I loved it, becoming an instructor at 16. I came alive teaching and I got a thrill from being fit and pushing myself.

This has continued all throughout my life, I have one of those incredibly annoying attitudes of ‘of course I can do that’.

I took up running to run a marathon, I entered a 100 mile bike ride having never done any sportives, and it was soon after that people started to mention triathlons to me, and my reply was always ‘not for me, as I can’t swim’. So I tried a few duathlons and loved the hideousness that is running after cycling. But inside I knew I needed to do a triathlon.


A random conversation with a friend led to me signing up for Ironman Frankfurt, if I was going to do a triathlon, I was going to go in big! Now at this point I should explain that marathons and sportives are usually entered the year before, giving you a year to train. It was January 2014, I couldn't swim and was going to need to swim 2.5 miles open water in 7 months time!

Then followed a couple of weeks of going to my local pool and drowning. I hated it; hated the cold, hated wearing goggles, hated wearing a swim cap, I just hated moving from one end of the pool to the other. I mentioned to a lady at the pool that I had entered an Ironman, she laughed and said you could always pull out. As if!

So I decided I needed lessons, finding adult only lessons is actually really, really hard, then a friend came to the rescue mentioning that there was this chap over in Towcester. I had previously picked up The Swim Shed’s card in another running shop, I am not one to ignore fate, getting two recommendations is enough for me, so I rang and booked a lesson.


I trotted off to meet Keith and it's fair to say learning to swim has transformed my life. Some people are just born to teach and install confidence; I left my first swimming lesson knowing that I would actually be able to complete the Ironman swim.

April is the start of the open water swimming season and I was going to have to master swimming alfresco in a wetsuit. Keith came with me one evening to the lake and holy crapola it was so cold it took my breath away. I wasn't sure I would even get my face in! Perseverance is the name of the game, so I kept calm and kept trying. Face in, blow bubbles, face in, blow bubbles, then three strokes, stop, three strokes, stop, and then more strokes, and more, and more, till I stopped feeling nervous. I am not going to say I enjoyed it but I definitely preferred it to the pool. Jane came swimming in the lake with me and it was brilliant, I could wee in my wetsuit and giggle about it! I started to relax and enjoy my swimming.

July came round surprisingly fast. During a quick visit to the doctors before Ironman, I discovered that I was pregnant! Undeterred, I went to Frankfurt.

Getting around the Ironman swim course was the be all and end all for me. I knew it was going to be rough, but no amount of practicing being dunked prepares you for the pushing and shoving you get during a mass swim start. I took on so much water I threw up.

I found myself able to calm down; face in, breathe, face in, breathe, three strokes, three strokes... back to my rhythm, off I went. Panicking and throwing up over, I began to enjoy myself and may have forgotten to sight. This became apparent when a kayaker shouted at me, gesturing that I had swum off course. He paddled along side me for the rest of the course. We chatted a fair bit, there is a small chance I may have chatted a bit much, so much in fact that I learnt all about his life, his girlfriend and his holidays! Wurst, my kayaker, got me to the end of that swim, on exiting the water I gave him a massive kiss, clearly forgetting about the earlier vomiting moment, which half way up the exit I repeated... I wasn't the last out of the water, I was, however, the last lady, but I had done it! 6 months pregnant, and 7 months previously being a non swimmer, I had made the Ironman cut off! I loved it, and most importantly I had learned to swim.


Swimming has continued to be a big part of my life. Fast forward 18 months, I was again stood at the start of an Ironman swim, this time in Vichy, France. I completed it, it wasn't pretty, but I was beaming. I had done my second Ironman swim and I wasn't last and I wasn't sick.

I like the rhythmic nature of swimming, it calms me and I love the peace it gives me. All our holidays must have access to water, my hubby now looks for large bodies of water and we frequently visit wild swimming sites.

With baby number 2 on the way, I visited Kings Cross Pond, much to the amusement of locals and office workers, who witnessed the bump and I swimming. I need to swim and swim long. I find it impossible to think about much else when I’m in the water. As a mum of two little ones and being my own boss, I need the calm.


I was dreading winter and having to stop swimming open water. I became determined to continue for as long as I could non-wetsuit.

It’s a funny thing, people always ask ‘aren't you freezing?’, well it's odd, but no, I am not. I lower myself down into the water and of course it's cold and a bit of a shock, but I breast stroke a bit and try not to swear loudly! One of the best things about swimming open water in the winter is the gang. We huddle around the fire afterwards, shaking and shivering and drinking our tea, laughing at the ridiculousness of open water swimming throughout the British winter!

I swim everywhere and anywhere, and in 2018 I have signed up for an epic swim. My children swim every week and have done since they were both two weeks old. I still sometimes find it odd to look back at January 2014, and think holy crap, I couldn't even swim, and here I am three years on, contemplating some really long swims.

Swimming is part of my life, I couldn't imagine not doing it. It has changed my life.

Emily Campbell


So for now, keep us in the LOOP by using #theswimshed for all of your swim adventures and watery escapades!

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