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Q&A: Fenwick's journey from swimming teacher to open water coach

After developing a love for swimming at a young age, Fenwick Ridley has carved out a career in the water.

We sat down with Fenwick to discuss his journey from teaching children in the pool to owning a business coaching open water swimmers. 

For how long have you been swimming?

I could swim at an early age and completed my first mile around the age of seven.

I only stopped swimming through a few teenage years when I found other things that I preferred.

How did you become a swimming teacher?

A careers advisor sat down with me at the age of 16 to have a serious chat about my future.

In the end, we decided the only thing I really loved was swimming, so I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship with a swimming pool operator.

This gave me the opportunity to have a go at teaching and I then eventually got my swimming teacher qualifications.

Why did you swap the pool for open water swimming?

I completed a 10km swim in a pool and a coach basically said I should have a go at open water swimming (I never was any good as a sprinter).

So, I did all the wrong things and followed some other swimmers into a lake to have a go when I didn’t know anything about open water swimming.

What went wrong?

I got an old windsurfing wet suit which was too tight and I couldn’t breathe.

I tried keeping up with other swimmers, I panicked and wondered what on earth I was doing.

I know now I should have got some advice, swum with a coach and at a venue where they would keep me safe. I was lucky this didn’t put me off.

Why did you continue open water swimming after that experience?

On that first swim, I eventually told myself to stop, relax, slow down and just enjoy it.

Afterwards, I came out feeling great. It was like I was unplugged and plugged back into the right socket.

It felt right for my brain and body

What do you enjoy most about open water swimming?

It’s the great feeling I get from it. I feel so relaxed and confident.

When you step into the water, it’s like walking through a curtain where you leave all your worries behind, go for a swim and when you come out, you pick them all back up again, but with a much better feeling of calm.

How did you progress from swimmer to coach?

I knew I wanted to understand more and help others. I’d already been informally coaching my friends and family, so I thought I’d better do it properly.

I completed the Institute of Swimming level 2 Open Water Coaching Course and never looked back.

What are you doing now and do you have plans for the future?

My original plan was to take people swimming in the Lake District, but I quickly realised I had the perfect venue on my doorstep.

It’s beautiful, with spring-fed water and I get on well with the manager.

I now run open water coaching sessions and have slowly built up my knowledge of cold water swimming to take people in throughout the year.

The owner of the lake is so pleased with my services that we are now working together to build bigger facilities to allow more swimmers. So, it’s onward and upward from here.

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