Archive for the ‘triathlon’ Category

Just how safe are water-sports?

“Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won’t drown”

These famous words taken from Arthur Ransomes’ Swallows and Amazons fit well with our question here: Just how safe is wild swimming?

With all the hype about the dangers of wild swimming, why not put your knowledge to the test? See if you can answer the following three questions correctly…

Take the quiz

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Open water swimming has been singled out as too dangerous a sport and so people are being warned not to be inspired by the Olympics and swim in open water during the summer.

Councilor Mark Winnington of Staffordshire County Council issued the warning fearing that some may be inspired by the open water swimming events at the Olympics. According to This is Stratfordshire he said: “The water could be inviting, but also deadly.” It is true as he says that during Olympic competitions “…crews follow them every step of the way.” (During training, much less supervision is necessary, especially as there is no need for the camera crews to document every stroke.) By contrast he states: “This is completely different from people just deciding to go for a swim on a warm sunny day. Open water can be very deep and very cold and even the most experienced of swimmers can find themselves struggling.”

This is not the opinion of a growing number of wild swimmers. The experience of swimming in rivers and lakes can in fact do much to build confidence, encourage participation in sport and may well fulfill in part the aim of the Olympics to ‘Inspire a generation’.

Of course there are risks; just as those inspired to run will need to cross busy roads, those inspired to cycle will need to display a little road sense, and just the same, those inspired to swim will need to display common sense. Do we want to keep athletes in doors? Runners on tread mills, cyclists at spin classes and swimmers in swimming pools? The fact that swimming has been singled out says a lot about British cultural attitudes towards open water swimming and reveals an underlining prejudice towards swimming in the wild or as it is now known: Wild Swimming.

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The 2012 summer has been typically British; short blasts of hot sunshine, damp around the edges and a determination on the part of the nation’s swimmers to make the very best of it. When the sun shone, swimmers were out in force across the country, thousands of them, even if most were unaware that they were ‘wild swimming’ or even of the existence of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Ever since the lido era changed the focus of swimming from the early morning to the sunny day, it takes a spell of good weather for our numbers to be revealed. Yet when it comes to our freedom to swim and the general public’s perception of swimming in the wild, there is still a long way to go. There have been hopeful signs. Progress by swimmers at Sparth and promises of a bathing beach at Rutland Water are two good examples, but, alas, two swallows don’t make a summer, and our freedom to swim lies very much in the balance. Recognition that some may wish to plunge into the Thames sparked a ban by the Port of London Authority and a backlash from the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

For my part I feel irresistibly drawn to water, and slighted when prevented from swimming in it. I feel a sense of belonging; of attachment to the aquatic environment; a sense of deep satisfaction and fulfillment as I sink in and swim, and of course swimming is such fun, it puts a smile on the face of the swimmers as well as the faces of those looking on. I remember watching a Michael Palin travelogue; his train broke down in the middle of nowhere and as it was going to be quite a wait for a rescue business men, mothers, bankers and children stripped down to their underpants and went swimming in a nearby lake. Of course, the British wouldn’t dream of leaving the train, but perhaps we would become a little less stuffy if we took off our ‘official hats’ from time to time and connected with people and with the fun of actually being alive.

I revisited Blenheim Palace at the beginning of August and savored a stolen moment of sheer bliss. The majestic setting steeped in history and the beauty of the scenic panorama inevitably drew me in. Like a bright lustrous wine that can be savored on the palate for but a moment, my swim in the main lake was, alas, a singular pleasure. Much as I would have loved to swim beneath Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge and on into the Queen Pool, two ‘concerned’ members of the Blenheim staff requested that I not go back in for fear that I might encounter fishing hooks and line. Anxiety that should I be injured, they would be liable brought an end to my discreet adventure, even if it did not sit well with the Churchill spirit. With their reasoning I did not agree, but their instantaneous appearance from nowhere, along with their pleasant good manners made it hard to be confrontational. A little earlier I had enjoyed seeing an owl swoop over the heads of wide eyed children, a mock jousting tournament and sword fight ending with a pretty girl being dragged behind a horse in a sack. Swimming in the lake seemed much less dangerous, but then you can’t be too careful can you? Well perhaps you can. If we don’t encourage sport and activity how will we inspire a generation? Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee have shown us how it’s done; now it’s up to the Nation to keep the flame alive.

Across the country news reports have expressed concern about youngsters cooling off in the brief spells of sunshine. A hard hitting video produced by United Utilities has been targeting teenagers warning that it is never safe to swim in open water. In Plymouth there has been much concern about tombstoning.  Participants as young as eleven are reported to be risking their lives by plunging from great heights into the sea, yet by way of contrast, the Nation has been gripped by the display of somersaults and agility as Team GB divers competed for medals at the Olympics. Divers spun with heads just missing the diving board, entertaining a worldwide audience to standing ovation. One teenagers’ desire to compete was fuelled at a young age having joined the divers on Plymouth Hoe. Not that long ago youngsters were able to jump from the seaside diving boards with a depth gauge reminding them of sea levels and safety. The British were proud to see Tom Daley receive his well deserved medal, applauding his achievement at the Aquatics Centre. Teenagers love the thrill of jumping and diving, those of us less brave are content to stand and watch and cheer them on. Perhaps it’s not the active teenagers of Plymouth who should be condemned, but rather the authoritarians that wrecked the facilities, which for me were the highlight of Plymouth Hoe, leaving the would be ‘Tom Daley’s’ little choice, other than to jump from the cliff top.

Youngsters are our future, and this is especially true when it comes to wild swimming. The National Trust has listed wild swimming as one of fifty things children should do before they are 11 3/4. Even ROSPA now recommend wild swimming. Yet wisdom dictates that newcomers receive a little education if they are to do so safely.

A paper in the Lancet, timed to coincide with the Olympics, compares the rates of physical activity worldwide country by country. Great Britain was highlighted as one of the least active, with those 15 years and over far less lively than those in France, Australia and despite the stereotyping, even America. According to the Lancet, insufficient activity has nearly the same effect on life expectancy as smoking!  I think we should get out and grab life while we can. Let’s get active and swim our way into the future.

Perhaps the weather is to blame for our British reserve, for our stiffness and self rectitude. In hot countries the beaches, pools, and rivers fill as the mercury rises. People stop worrying and just get on with the happy business of cooling down and relaxing. Does the swimmer have the right to swim? I say we do. Let’s be inspired by the 2012 Olympics, let’s get out, get active and set an example by swimming free in 2012.

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Leah Prudhomme, 33 from Anoka was nearing the end of her lake swim in northern Minnesota when she was attacked by an otter and bitten 25 times. As she was pulled from the water by her father in a rescue boat her wetsuit was seen to be in tatters. Although attacks such as this are almost unheard it has been suggested that the animal might have been protecting pups or suffering from rabies. The lake in which she was swimming had such dark water that she was unable to fend the creature off in the water. After the attack the victim was taken to hospital and inoculated against tetanus rabies and given antibiotics.  More…

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How to orientate during swimming

Concerns for wildlife could scupper plans to stage open water swimming in a lake at a nature reserve, reports the Leicester Mercury.

Dishley Pool, near Loughborough, has been earmarked as a suitable location for outdoor swimming by sporting events firm Racetime Events, it is hoped that the facility would enable training for the triathlon in preparation for the Olympics later this year but this is now doubtful as Charnwood Borough Council, which owns the site off Derby Road, have recommended an application to change the use of the pool be refused by councillors.
Outdoor swimming resurfaced after centuries of neglect right here in Britain during the industrial revolution. Yet since the 1970s outdoor swimming has been rigorously opposed in England despite very different attitudes throughout the rest of Europe. It is true that wildlife has taken over at neglected swimming holes in the mean time, but outdoor swimmers are very sensitive to their environment. Unhappy with swimming in unnatural chlorinated waters when they enter open water they treat it with due respect. Simply by designating a small stretch of the bank for the use of swimmers, habitats are preserved and disturbance to wildlife is negligible.

The whole issue of the right to swim in inland open waters is a hot topic at the moment. A campaign to get British Waterways to allow swimming to continue at Sparth, Huddersfield has been met with understanding by officials. Determined to bring an end to unreasoning prejudice towards open water swimmers, NO SWIMMING signs are soon to be removed and replaced with information boards instead. This represents a turn in the tide of opposition so prevalent until now. In fact this momentous change in the swimmers fortune has attracted the attention of the BBC who intends to run a feature on the current affairs program Inside Out.
It is proposed to allow swimming at Rutland Water this year should water levels be suitable, the very idea of which would have been unthinkable two or three years ago. In view of this perhaps now is the time to reconsider the fate of swimmers today.
Read the fascinating story of open water swimming.

Read the fascinating story of open water swimming.

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Open water swimming

A shock decision by Birmingham City Council to turn its back on a decades old bylaw prohibiting outdoor swimming in the cities lakes and ponds, may see the genie out of the bottle for open water swimmers.  

Several requests have been made over the years to allow swimmers to train and compete in the waters of Birmingham parks but the bylaw was always cited as a prohibition. Councilor Martin Mullaney stated: “When I was told of the possibility of a triathlon event at Sutton Park, I was also informed it was impossible because of a long-standing ban on open water swimming. I found the situation ridiculous. As a result my officers have now found a way to allow registered swimming clubs to open water swim in our numerous ponds and reservoirs in our parks.” 

Birmingham’s Sutton Park may soon see swimmers return to its waters and at the same time questions asked as to why the prohibition on open water swimming was imposed in the first place. If you have not done so already, why not read Hung Out to Dry and discover why outdoor swimmers have suffered so many years of prejudice.

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