'Heart-warming' Outswimming Cancer sessions are transforming lives

To mark World Cancer Day 2022, Swim England caught up with swimming instructor Lesley Rechert who runs Outswimming Cancer sessions at Chesterfield’s Queen’s Park Sports Centre.

Swimming played a ‘really big part’ in Lesley Rechert’s recovery and rehabilitation from cancer eight years ago.

After finding out that the sessions she attended were funded by Western Park Cancer Charity, Lesley applied for funding once she had qualified as a swimming teacher three years ago.

The Outswimming Cancer sessions then launched in March 2020 and have been transforming the lives of those recovering from cancer treatment.

More recently, this saw Chesterfield Borough Council claim the Swim England Health Impact Award in 2021 as a result of its work with Lesley.

Queen’s Park Leisure Centre, in Chesterfield, host the weekly sessions, with Lesley praising the ‘really supportive’ team as she explains that it’s one ‘big team effort’ to ensure the sessions are delivered.

Her journey

Sharing some of her own experiences, Lesley said: “I went from being somebody who could run 10k and was really fit and active, to somebody who could walk a very short distance.

“It’s a real big climb back up after you’ve had cancer treatment – it’s getting fit again.

“I’d been a swimmer all my life and I was a bit nervous about getting back into the pool, so I can really relate to people arriving on our swimming sessions and feeling nervous and anxious to even just get through the front door.

“Swimming helps with your fitness and I had operations and it definitely helped with my mobility so that I’ve got all my reach back with my arm.

“It’s social – I went to a session at Hathersage and I met a group of ladies and five years later we’re still swimming together, we’ve really formed a good friendship.

“I see that within the sessions that I run, that nice and supportive friendships are being formed. It’s something normal after a period of strangeness were the world is very different when you’re having your cancer treatment.

“To come swimming again, it’s just normal and I really see the difference in the first 10 minutes. People come through the door and they’re looking really worried and they get in the pool and it’s just like the weight drops off their shoulders and they just look so happy.”

Outswimming Cancer sessions

Explaining the positive impact that the sessions have, Lesley says being in the water and the support it provides helps build fitness, increase mobility and improve confidence levels.

The Outswimming Cancer sessions welcome people of all ages and ability, but are not just ‘all about swimming’.

She continued: “Water is really healing and it’s really relaxing, it’s a lovely thing to see. Our sessions have lots of chatting, it’s definitely not all about cancer, it’s a fun session.

“People can talk about what they want to or not talk about what they don’t want to, it’s just good to be with other people who have experienced something similar.

“It’s amazing [to know I’m helping]. It’s really lovely and to see people chatting, it’s not all about swimming, it’s just a really nice community.

“It changes every week. Some people come every week, some people only come once or twice and get what they need out of it.

“Just to see how they develop and how those friendships are forming – it’s really nice.

“You learn things from each other and especially during your recovery, people share their stories of what’s helped them and then that helps other people. It’s a really heart-warming thing to do and I really enjoy it.

“One lady, we were doing different things and she learnt to float on her back and then she said ‘oh wow that’s amazing, I never thought I’d be able to float on my back, the confidence I’ve got from doing that I’ll be able to use in other areas of my life’ – which is brilliant.

“Another lady was ready to leave as soon as she stepped in on the first day because she was so nervous and after a few weeks she was happily swimming under the water, which she’d never done before.

“It is just transforming, it’s just the magic of being in water I think.”

Advice for others

Knowing how she initially felt before her return to the water, Lesley shared some advice for those who may be anxious about getting involved in the sessions.

“Go with a friend and if you’re feeling really nervous, go to the swimming pool not aiming to swim, just go and look and see what’s there and how you can get in,” she added.

“Suss out the changing rooms and where to park and all of that kind of thing, which sometimes adds to the anxiety of getting back into the exercise.

“And swimming pools are really good, if you’re feeling anxious about your body for instance, you can wrap a towel round you and then walk to the closest point in the swimming pool so you’re only uncovered for those couple of moments before you get into the pool.

“It’s just making that initial step and then once you’ve done it then you’ll think ‘why did I worry about that?’

“Some people who swim with us have some scars and they wear a long sleeve swimming top so that also gives a bit more confidence as well.”

To find out more about the Outswimming Cancer sessions, click here.