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Jenny Ball reflects on open water swimming

Masters Blogs

Jenny is one of our oldest members to regularly swim in open water. As she finishes her latest pool competition at the British Masters Championships, she reflects on her swimming and what she’s looking forward to during this year’s open water season.

Lucky to be surrounded by beautiful, safe beaches

I am 79 and have lived in Newport on the Isle of Wight for 58 years (all our married life). We have four sons and nine grandchildren. I lived in Birmingham for six years but hail from Ipswich originally.

We are so lucky here on the Isle of Wight to be surrounded by beautiful, safe beaches from which to swim. The annual Sandown to Shanklin 3km sea swim in August is very popular but there are not many other larger events.

Last year I became the first female winner of the ‘Oldest Finisher’ Trophy in the 16 years of its history. Sadly I cannot defend that cap this year as I will be in Budapest!

Swimming has taken me, and my number one supporter, my husband, all over the world where I have made so many friends. I have swum across the Solent, from Ryde Sands to Southsea six times; the first being when I was 60. I have also enjoyed several ‘SwimTrek’ holidays in wonderful locations with friends.

Though my family think I am slightly crazy, I just want to keep swimming as long as I can and I’m ever grateful for the health benefits it brings. As a swimming teacher, I also have the privilege of being able to help so many other people, old and young, to learn to swim for health, satisfaction and enjoyment.

Took up competitive swimming in my 50s

I have always loved swimming, both in pools and the sea. I also worked as a voluntary lifeguard for many years. However, it is only in later life that I have taken up competitive swimming, including open water, having started club swimming and Masters’ competitions when I was 50.

I have never been coached as such and regret not having had the opportunity to do this as a youngster. I am certain that basic grounding in sport stays for life. Those with whom I compete and who had this early training, just have the edge!

To be part of a Masters club and to train with other competitive swimmers would be a dream. This dream may come true as we have a new emerging club on the island with coached sessions for Masters just coming into being…WOW! I have had to self-motivate and glean tips and schedules from friends and the internet.

This year I shall be competing in the Great London Swim and the Serpentine, one mile, as well as taking part in the World Masters Championships in Budapest in August.

The event includes a 3km swim in a lake. I also hope to enter some sea swims if the dates do not clash.

For the Serpentine swim I have a sponsored entry and will be raising money for Age Related Macular Degeneration, which I have in both eyes.

Swimming keeps me healthy and my weight under control

I have to admit that I am frequently told that I am an ‘inspiration,’ especially when other swimmers learn my age! This is very flattering and humbling but I know I am very, very fortunate to have good genes. Swimming keeps me healthy and my weight under control.

I would tell people who are thinking about open water to ‘go for it’. It’s so different from the pool and with an even greater sense of achievement. The camaraderie is like no other.

It takes a little time at first to get used to the different tastes of the water and putting your face in. However, there are lots more opportunities to travel and experience a variety of venues.

And for those people contemplating their first competition I would quote the late Vivienne Cherriman, my inspiration and who lived on the Isle of Wight.

“Don’t worry about results and who wins, they are mostly ex-champions. Start at the bottom and you will soon work your way up with training. Here’s a form for the Masters Nationals! My advice is to relax, learn and enjoy. You will be among friends.”

This advice was given to me in 1988 but I have to confess I didn’t enter until the next year!