This winter we have set a challenge for people to swim 1,891m between October and December - an opportunity for everyone to shake off those winter blues, whilst promoting health and well-being.

It’s been fantastic to see so many of you signing up, from newbie swimmers to seasoned pros. In our latest blog we caught up with a swim group from Thanet, Kent. They have taken the 1891 challenge a stage further by swimming in the sea! Swim coach Vanessa, alongside group members Dawn, Gill, Lorraine and James chat about the benefits of open water swimming, fundraising ideas and motivation tips.

Tell us a bit more about the Thanet Open Water Community

Vanessa (swim coach):The group is very inclusive and is of mixed swimming abilities. For some, this is also their first winter/cold water swimming experience, for others it is not; some have only dipped in winter and are now swimming further. There are no requirements about the attire we wear, as everyone and every swim is different and we learn from this. 

As part of the challenge I have been providing free sessions on most Wednesday mornings (October through to December), this has allowed the community a safe space to meet, swim or dip, as well as forge closer relationships. But what really motivates me is being able to help my community challenge themselves so that they become more confident and resilient in themselves, safely. Each session/interaction is an opportunity to impart some safety information.”

What made you sign up to the challenge?

Vanessa:I wanted to find a reason to challenge the swimmers and dippers within my community as well as give back as this is a big part of who I am and why I became an Open Water Swim Coach about two and half years ago. I also choose RLSS UK as the 1891 challenge is pitched around wellbeing, which fits in with a lot of what I do too.”

Gill: "I signed up because I believe organisations like RLSS UK save people’s lives and it has been great to be able to raise money and awareness."

Lorraine: "I signed up to this because I like to have something each year that pushes me out of my comfort zone. This challenge encourages me to regularly swim outdoors, which I wouldn’t do otherwise - living by the sea it feels a shame not to swim more."

What benefits have you seen from open water swimming?

Dawn: "I gain so much enjoyment, the feeling of well-being and exhilaration when I do it and I've met the most amazing people who all share a common bond." 

Lorraine: "Two other benefits are - 1. feeling justified in having a hot chocolate drink for breakfast when I warm up afterwards and 2. Improving my balance as I try to get dressed afterwards on the sand whilst maintaining my dignity!"

James: "Unlike some others I don't feel a rush of exhilaration afterwards, but I do feel resolute, that I did it, that I'm effective and autonomous and ready for whatever is heading my way that day - and that's major. "

Do you have any tips for someone wanting to start outdoor swimming?

Vanessa: “Listen to your body! As the temperature drops, we are listening to our bodies more and adapt and reduce our time in the water. For example, this morning the post swim shivers were noticeable for some and it reminds us all to be safe and to factor this in our subsequent swims/dips.”

Gill: "Join a group and get a coach! When you’re part of a group it encourages you not to listen to excuses in your head!"

Dawn: "Respect the sea, understand your own limitations, don't go in if you don't feel it’s safe to do so. Be realistic about how long to stay in. Always swim/dip with someone who has knowledge and experience. Prepare yourself well for the cold and think about building up with cold showers."

James: "The group is such a huge help - there's a kind of group mentality that takes over: 'we're all doing this together, let's go now!' - which is strongly motivating. We provide each other with support, friendship and courage. But more important than the group is coach Vanessa - she is a kind of totem or wise woman and her being there means we are all safe."

Any tips for fundraising?

Dawn: "The more publicity RLSS UK is given in discussions and through fundraising the more people will get behind it."

Lorraine: "Spreading the word on social media and including the charity link is really helpful especially when you are doing something out of the ordinary and others see it as 'bonkers'. Put the charity box up at work, the pub, church, somewhere you attend regularly or add to it yourself when you have change e.g. 20p or £1 coins. Offer your time or expertise in return for a donation, host an event; these I think are the easiest ones to do.”

There’s still time to get involved in the 1891 challenge:

Sign up 

Thanet Fundraising Page

Open Water Safety Tips