Swimming lessons with Solly the penguin
6th October 2011 - London Evening Standard
Sunday mornings are usually the chance for a lie-in but at eight o’clock last weekend I was already at an office in Torquay being given a safety briefing about swimming with penguins.
People talk about once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and this was definitely one of those. I couldn't believe I was about to be given the chance to get into the water with them.
I didn't know what to expect from the penguins but it was an amazing experience.
All the penguins at Living Coasts, an animal park on the Devon coast, have their own characteristics and the keepers gave me a heads-up on what to expect once in the water.
They said one called Solly was really friendly while another, Blue, was a bit feisty and might try to nibble my wetsuit. Oh, and they also mentioned that there were three sharks in the tank for company!
As expected, the friendliest of all the penguins was Solly, who swam around with me and, when I sat on the edge of the water, came and sat with me and played around.
I didn't know what to expect from the penguins when I got there but I certainly didn't think they'd be that exciting. It was an amazing experience.
On Monday morning, though, it was back in the pool for proper training. The first goal is the trials in March and then the Olympics in July.
I've just had a training camp in Tenerife. There were about 40 of us in total and that was great. More than anything, it was about getting fit, mixing up swimming and also doing circuits and weights.
We woke early the following morning, got out the medicine balls and started doing circuits - not the sort of thing you usually see when you go camping.
We had a couple of half-days off while out there, one of which I spent chilling by the pool and on the other I headed to the beach.
Back at home, we've done the usual mix of cross-training, kick boxing, rock climbing, that sort of thing.
But Ben changed things recently and got 12 of us together to go camping. A lot of our training group have dogs - I had one growing up but don't now - and so he built a trip around everyone bringing their dogs camping.
We went up towards Derby, set up our tents and had a nice barbecue on the first day.
It must have been odd for the few other people staying at the campsite as we woke early the following morning and got out the medicine balls and started doing circuits - probably not the sort of thing you usually see when you go camping in the UK!
We hired bikes there as well to ride around the lake and were told that it would take at least an hour. We planned to do a couple of laps - one as a warm-up and then a faster one.
However, being a competitive bunch, we really went for it on lap one had to go even faster second time around but just about managed it.