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Spotlight on: Simon Griffiths

Simon Griffiths is the founder and publisher of H2Open Magazine, which is a publication for open water swimming.

Simon is a pretty well-seasoned open water swimmer, but this year he will be competing at the LEN European Masters Championships at the London Aquatics Centre.

We caught up with him to find out what his aims are for the championships and how he has been preparing to take on the pool.

Over the past few years most of my competitive and recreational swimming has been in open water, which is hardly surprising as I run a magazine about open water swimming.

This year, the European Masters Championships coincides with me turning 50, which means there’s an opportunity to compete in a major event as one of the youngest in my age group.

The thought of climbing on a starting block and staring down an empty lane still give me butterflies, so I thought a temporary return to the pool might be in order.

Youngest, however, does not necessarily mean fastest. I took part in a couple of Masters’ pool galas in 2015 and my times do not compare favourably with those of the top swimmers in my new age group, which are scarcely slower than those from the one I’ve just left.

Rather than worry about unobtainable podium places then, my aim is instead to swim faster in my fiftieth year than I could in my twentieth when I swam for my university team (but it would also be nice not to finish too far down the rankings).

Over the longer distances this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. While I’m not fitter than when I was 20, I’ve learnt a lot about pacing over 30 years and also swim with much better technique. Open water swimming has also been great for my aerobic conditioning.

The challenge will be in the sprints but I’ve got a good chance if I can continue training regularly over the next months.

Three years ago I thought my competitive swimming days might be over. I suffered from a prolapsed disk in my neck – between vertebrae C4 and C5. The resulting bulge compressed the nerve to my left arm leading to intense pain in my neck, shoulders and arm and severely restricted movement.

For a while I could do no swimming whatsoever. As the initial pain eased I was able to swim legs only on my back as long as I kept my arms by my side – I quickly got bored of this, although I was happy to be in the water.

After extensive physiotherapy and lots of dedication to rehabilitation exercises I could start using my arms on backstroke but anything on my front caused shooting pains down my arm. That too eventually passed and I started swimming front crawl but with a snorkel so I didn’t have to turn my head. For the time being, open water swimming and forward sighting, which puts huge pressure on your neck, was completely out of the question.

The wait to see an NHS surgeon about the possibility of removing the disk was long, and perhaps this was a good thing. I’d seen good progress with the physiotherapy at this point, so I decided to postpone a decision on the operation for another six months.

Swimming has been a massive help. Not only has it motivated me to do the physiotherapy and rehabilitation, it’s a great exercise for strength and mobility in the upper back and shoulders.

Luckily, six months later and I was almost swimming as before. I’d even managed to do some open water swimming by asking a friend to swim alongside and do my sighting for me. Eventually I was able to swim butterfly again and finally, most difficult of all, breaststroke. I’ve learnt, when swimming in open water, to keep my sighting low and infrequent so as not to put too much pressure on the disk and last year I managed a creditable third place at the ASA National Open Water Masters Championships in the 45-49 age group.

Prolapsed disks don’t heal themselves as far as I know, but the swelling and associated compression of the nerve associated with them can reduce.

So, until May 2016, I’ll be focussing on sprints, starts and turns in the pool but after that it’s back to the open water.

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