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Meet Swim England's outdoor swimming ambassadors

Swim England has chosen its first group of outdoor swimming ambassadors to aid their fight for cleaner waters, better access and increased safety for open water swimmers.

The national governing body launched its new open water swimming pledge in April, followed by a search for ambassadors to help spread the message about the work that is being done.

After an application process, an initial six ambassadors have been chosen. These are Maria Parker-Harris, Nick Hope, Dr Lucy Loveday, Fenwick Ridley, Suzie Wheway and Annie Brooks.

Here we meet the new Swim England ambassadors and hear what they had to say.

Maria Parker-Harris

Maria has previously worked with Swim England on both the Value of Swimming research and throughout two waves of the #LoveSwimming campaign.

She shared her story on how fertility treatment took its toll on her mental health and coping during lockdown after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

On her involvement as an outdoor swimming ambassador, Maria said: “I am so very excited to be joining Swim England as an ambassador.

“I have previously worked with Swim England when sharing how swimming positively impacted my mental health and PTSD whilst battling long-term infertility.

“With the last year being so tough for all of us and embarking on my second course of fertility treatment, closure of the pools was devastating.

“It was this loss that lead me to find a deep love of cold water and swimming in nature for peace and mental wellbeing.

“I have developed a long-term passion for open water swimming and can’t wait to share my journey from fertility treatment, to pregnancy and motherhood through swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea.”

Nick Hope

Nick is a sports journalist and masters swimmer and since lockdown has become an avid outdoor swimmer.

Last autumn he developed a serious ear problem which was later diagnosed as nasty infection – likely caused by highly contaminated water.

As a result, he now has to swim with ear plugs at all times and says he’s ‘passionate’ about supporting Swim England’s mission to improve the nation’s waterways.

“I’m delighted to be part of Swim England’s #NoLanesNoLimits campaign and help raise awareness about the importance of better access, cleaner and safer waters around the United Kingdom,” he said.

“I’ll be honest, having trained and competed in pool swimming since I was a child, I always thought you needed to be a little crazy to properly embrace the outdoor / open water disciplines, but I’m happy to say I’m now one of those crazy / enlightened ones!

“I’d dabbled a few times in previous years, but lockdown and the closure of pools pushed me to dive in full-time.

“For me, swimming brings balance to my life and although the way I train is far from relaxing, it’s almost a form of meditation which gives me the head space to process what’s going on in my life and banish any of those negative thoughts.”

Explaining his thoughts after being told his ear infection was likely caused by polluted waters, Nick said: “It brought home how important it is that venues are regularly checked to ensure they are clean and safe enough for people to swim in.

“I’m passionate about helping Swim England in this mission and hope that what is certainly a ‘boom’ time for outdoor swimming will see more safe venues appear around the country.”

Dr Lucy Loveday

Lucy is a is a GP and medical educationalist and was also the founder of Movement & The Mind.

Movement & The Mind is an educational platform and community of experts who discuss aspects such as benefits of physical activity for good mental health.

Swimming has always been part of her life and Lucy is ‘delighted’ to become an ambassador for Swim England.

She said: “As someone who grew up with swimming, my hope is that every person has equity of opportunity to swim in clean water and experience for themselves the benefits of moving in blue spaces.

“I am delighted to be a Swim England ambassador and look forward to journeying together over the coming months.”

Fenwick Ridley

Fenwick’s swimming experience spans across many areas – his journey began teaching children in the pool, and now he owns a business coaching open water swimmers.

He has previously been involved in a Q&A session with Swim England in which he discussed his career and how some of the opportunities arose.

On being an ambassador, he said: “I’m very excited to be part of the Swim England family.

“I think I will be able to help and support so many more people on loving the outdoor swimming scene, giving strength to the right messages and direction to the best experiences – including ice swimming.

“Being an ambassador for Swim England is an honour and important to me because swimming is more than just a passion for me – it’s my life.

“Now, owning my open water business, I have been super driven in supporting open water swimming and starting projects like keeping our waters clean and litter free.”

Suzie Wheway

Suzie, similarly to Maria, also worked with Swim England on both the Value of Swimming research and #LoveSwimming.

In a previous interview with Swim England, Suzie explained that open water swimming was her ‘escape from everyday life’.

Now she is an all-year round outdoor swimmer, a swimming teacher and an open water swimming coach.

“After a successful career in the Environment sector I made a change of career after discovering the joys of open water,” she added.

“Wanting to give something back to the amazing open water swim community, I now coach in the Peak District and campaign for better inland access to water for all.

“I’m passionate about helping others enjoy the water in whatever way is right for them. That can only be achieved with better access to water and good water quality.

“As a Swim England open water ambassador, I want to promote actions we can all take to improve access and quality of our waters.”

Annie Brooks

Annie featured in Swim England’s #LoveSwimming ‘Escape’ campaign and she explained that being able to ‘switch off’ when swimming helped her to maintain a positive outlook when she faced mental health difficulties.

She experienced anxiety for a number of years and this was heightened when she was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2012.

A return to the water in 2014 has seen Annie go on to complete triathlons and now on being named as a Swim England ambassador, she says she’s ‘excited’ to get involved.

Annie said: “Since bringing swimming into my life back in 2014, it is safe to say it has changed it for the positive.

“Swimming offers me not only physical benefits but also helps me clear my mind and swim away the pressures and worries of the day.

“Mental and physical health booster, what a combination! I’m really excited to be an ambassador for Swim England.”

If you would like to find out more about the work Swim England will be doing as part of their open water swimming pledge, click here.

Image credit (bottom row, far right) – @NickHopeTV

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