Published: 18 February 2022

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer shows us that it is always a good time to learn new life skills

Felicity, wife of MP Johnny Mercer, admitted that she was "your head above water old lady breaststroke stereotype". However, she started 2022 determined (with her daughter's encouragement) to learn how to swim properly, rounding it off with training for her National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ). We will be keeping in touch with her throughout her training to see how she is getting on. Hear about how she decided to take on the qualification below.

“When I was growing up swimming was not on my radar. It was something that you painstakingly endured at school if you weren’t lucky enough to have an ‘off swimming’ note from your mum. Sure – I knew of Michael Phelps’ swimming prowess around Olympic times but it didn’t feature in my life beyond a bit of splashing around in the summer holidays.

“Fast forward a few decades, including a move to the West Country, and I have a nine-year-old daughter who joined a performance swimming programme (she’s now 13) and oh boy do my eyes get opened! There is a whole world of swimming out there and not just on the performance side – it's joyfully accessible to all levels but also sea swimming, wild swimming, lido swimming – all sorts.

“In my decade and a half in the West Country – my life has revolved around the sea, the rivers and lakes almost every weekend. I have daughters who swim in any stretch of water and an ex-Commando husband who, like a Labrador, feels swimming in any water is compulsory. I sit for almost 20 hours a week whilst my eldest trains in a pool. I have seen swimming used as a force for good – a well known triple amputee from Plymouth being supported on sea swims by an ex-Olympic swimmer on fundraisers and rehabilitation as a favourite example, and groups of swimmers going for their morning sea swims off the Plymouth Hoe for the pure exhilaration of sea swimming all year round.

“But still I avoided the sea, the pool and all types of swimming because for as long as I can remember I just wasn’t a good swimmer. I am your stereotypical old lady, head above water breaststroke type. Under no circumstances do my hair or ears get wet. Not up for discussion. No splashing, please.

“So when I decided last year that I needed a 2022 goal and Amalie, my eldest, told me to stop being such an embarrassing swimmer, it struck a chord. I always volunteer at her galas and enjoy being involved. I see how awesome she and her peers look gliding through the water but is that ever going to be me? At 41-years-old am I too set in my dry hair, dry ear ways to ever train like she does?

“And above all do I, as a swim mum of three daughters (youngest only 18-months) a wife of a politician who I like to accompany to events, a full-time job and a keep fit ‘20 minutes on the Peloton is all I’ve got’ type of person, have time for a new hobby?

“Or are these just excuses? What if one day I am needed to jump in and help. With a life that revolves around water in Devon and Cornwall; I have seen my husband help two people out of the water and you read of numerous tragedies.

“So what tipped the balance? Hearing from my neighbour that my local leisure pool was in jeopardy. Affordable facilities that are vital for children learning to swim and the health of everyone – I needed to do my bit. And this was going to be something that I could feel good about – starting from a very low base to becoming qualified with a new life skill. Answer sorted – I had my 2022 goal.

“All these things came together and on Monday 3rd January 2022 I took myself and Amalie down to the local pool, clearly looking like I was just a new year’s resolution type, turning up for the first few weeks of the year and then never going back. The first thing to note is doing something new with a beloved child that can swim 400 metres before I’ve even done 100 metres could be demoralising! But never one to give up, it actually gives me the push I need.

“I am now trying to squeeze in 2-3 sessions a week and last week plucked up the courage to ring the nearest National Pool Lifeguard Qualification course. I had a lovely conversation with the course teacher who, whilst I was trying to manage his expectations of my swimming level, told me that he had never had a student fail (no pressure then!) and I would be fine. Either he is a great teacher or the course is realistically doable, or both – either way I feel good about it!

“I really hope that I won’t be his first student to fail and that I will proudly end up with my own whistle and t-shirt but either way I’m just glad that I am trying.”

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