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Outdoor swimming ambassador Nick Hope says it's his ‘form of meditation’

After selecting an initial group of six outdoor swimming ambassadors to aid their fight for cleaner waters, better access and increased safety for open water swimmers – Swim England caught up with them individually to hear their stories.

Masters swimmer Nick Hope labelled outdoor swimming as his ‘form of meditation’ but also revealed that he enjoys the competitive side of the sport.

In a previous interview with Swim England, Nick explained his passion for supporting the mission to improve the nation’s waterways after he developed a serious ear problem which was later diagnosed as a nasty infection – likely caused by highly contaminated water.

Before the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns across England he was an occasional outdoor swimmer, but following the first lockdown Nick says that swimming outdoors more regularly has totally changed his perspective.

The new Swim England outdoor swimming ambassador discussed how he got into the sport, the impact it has had and his message to others.

It became something I enjoyed

Nick relocated from London to Manchester for work back in 2014 and recalled seeing ‘hundreds of people getting into The Quays each Wednesday’ just outside of where his office was.

Explaining how this led to his involvement in outdoor swimming, he said: “While I initially thought ‘no chance I’ll stick to the nice warm pool’, I was a little tempted to see what the fuss was all about.

“After a training mate entered the 2015 Great Manchester Swim I decided to give it a go myself.

“I wouldn’t say I had an instant love of it, I liked short-course racing with lots of spinning (tumble turns) and at that stage I’d been out of the water for years, so my swim-endurance fitness really wasn’t there.

“I should’ve won my ‘wave’ though, but I stopped after what I thought was the on-water finish line and started waving at people I thought were clapping.

“My ego soon took a much-deserved knock about two minutes later – when I realised they’d been telling me to keep swimming – as two guys sped past me, climbed out of the water and through the real finish line. Lesson learned!

“I did enjoy the challenge though and entered the event the following year – finishing a couple of minutes quicker, helped by knowing where the race actually ended!

“Pool swimming took over once more for the next few years until the first lockdown in 2020 and with no signs of leisure centres reopening, I thought I’d try the open water again.

“This time regular outdoor training totally changed my perspective. Yes, the improving endurance and fitness helped, but it became something I enjoyed and actually looked forward to taking part in, which I hadn’t fully experienced before.

“Then, even once the pools were finally reopened, I still continued outdoor swimming and have loved two full summers of the sport – even doing a few sessions without a wetsuit – progress!”

My form of meditation

In addition to the competitive action, Nick says he now takes time to ‘appreciate the other benefits’ that the sport brings.

“Generally, the reason I get into the water is to improve myself and my speed,” he added. “With outdoor swimming, yes I want to progress, but I’m perhaps a little easier on myself.

“I take a bit more time to think about what I’m doing and appreciate the other benefits it’s bringing me. I now have a new focus mindset and I don’t have to be in the pool all of the time.

“I’ve also made a lot of new friends and learnt more about the sport through the coached as well as the general free-training sessions I’ve joined in with.

“After over 30 years as a swimmer, it’s great to be doing ‘new’ things first the first time in decades.”

The pool closures caused by the coronavirus lockdowns saw an increase in people swimming outdoors, and Nick was certainly one of those.

He continued, saying: “I’m not someone who finds switching off or relaxing very easy. I need to be exhausted to sleep, but swimming gives me the balance I need.

“Most people describe meditation as a peaceful experience and while the way I swim is far from relaxing, I see it now as my form of meditation.

“It gives me – particularly outdoor swimming – a break from any digital distractions and just thinking about your breathing and the sound of the water gives me the head space I need to process what’s happening in my life and essentially go again the next day.

“Like many, the sudden lockdown and lack of social interaction was tough. Not being able to have the outlet of swimming to reduce the anxiety made things worse and it was a difficult few months for sure, but it was for everyone and I can’t complain too much given what others went through.

“But to summarise – outdoor swimming really felt like a lifesaver last summer!”

I’m totally sold on the sport now

Nick is hoping to swim in at least one of the Lake District venues before the end of the season, but his usual venues are Salford Quays in Manchester, Boundary Park in Cheshire and Pennington Flash in Wigan.

Comparing his two passions of pool swimming and outdoor swimming, he said: “I think the most common ‘go-to’ answer is to mention the ‘freedom’ you feel when swimming outdoors vs the pool.

“Certainly, if you’re used to sharing a lane then the space will be something you love, but there’s also the thrill of the challenge and seeing how far you can go.

“In the pool there’s always an end within 25m or less to stop at and a lane rope to grab if you’re desperate.

“With outdoor swimming, yes I’d recommend taking a buoyancy aid for longer-distance challenges, but you can really just get into the rhythm of swimming without the distraction of turns and that’s really quite liberating.

“I’m usually in the water five to six times per week and ideally, two of those will be outdoor swimming sessions as the benefits I feel when balancing the two disciplines are significant.

“I’m totally sold on the sport now and for as long as the water remains over 14 degrees Celsius I’ll be splashing away this year, next and beyond.”

Love to see the sport grow

For those who may have been inspired to get involved in outdoor swimming, Nick shared some of his advice.

He added: “You know how when you’re on a summer holiday and considering getting in the pool, but it feels freezing… then someone ‘helpfully’ says ‘it’s lovely once you’re in’ and then it is? Well outdoor swimming is pretty much the same.

“Regarding your kit… I’d recommend hiring a wetsuit for at least the first few times you try the sport and perhaps for the whole first summer because then you’ll know what you like and you can purchase your own gear at much lower prices at the end of the season.

“Also, take advice from others you know who have done it, or message people you find on social media.

“Feel free to DM me too on @NickHopeTV – people in the outdoor swimming community are a welcoming bunch and love to see the sport grow!”

Image credit – @NickHopeTV