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Sophie Etheridge challenges herself as she takes on Windermere to raise awareness

Sophie Etheridge developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) after a car knocked her off her bike as she travelled to triathlon training.

A decade later and she will be taking on the Windermere Two Way Swim.

Swimming was a huge part of Sophie’s life before the accident, describing herself as a really outgoing musician and triathlete who cycled everywhere and was constantly busy – now to someone that spends more than half their life in bed.

As she has gradually got back into swimming and went through a range of therapy, the 28-year-old open water swimmer explains why she wants to complete the Windermere swim.

She said: “There’s two reasons for me doing it, one is for a personal challenge for myself and the other is to try and raise awareness for disabled open water swimmers.

“As I’ve got back into swimming, it’s helped me to find who I am, what I am, and what I want to achieve.

“Ultimately, what I’ve always wanted to do in my life is help other people, so by doing this swim I hope to fundraise to help other disabled athletes financially and also raise awareness of what disabled people can do.”

When possible and lockdown dependant, Sophie has been training because originally her swim was scheduled to take place on 1 September 2020.

After the disappointment of having her challenge pushed back 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sophie can’t wait to take on 2021.

“I cannot wait to do the swim. It’s a massive challenge for me, it will be the longest swim that I’ve ever done and it’s completely solo so I think there will be times where I struggle,” Sophie added.

“It will feel like it’s never ending but I’m in the best place that I could possibly be mentally, physically and I’ve got the right support behind me.

“I can’t wait to do it but what I’m also looking forward to is the lead up to it and being able to try and make change in the lead up to it as well.

“Yes the swim is the aim and the peak of it, but it’s the work building up to it as well that I’m really looking forward to.

“I like helping other people and if they can be helped by swimming in the way that swimming has helped me that will make me happy.”

Sophie Etheridge swims Lake Tal-y-llyn in 2019

Sophie now uses crutches and a wheelchair. She explains how she ‘grieves her old life’ but isn’t letting her condition hold her back.

She said: “I was very lucky in many ways because the only injury I had from the accident was a sprained ankle, cuts and bruises. But I then developed CRPS in the sprained ankle and the pain never went away.

“It’s gradually got more and more intense so I was in and out of hospital and stopped all sports completely because it was too painful.

“One of my biggest issues with CRPS is that I have really hypersensitive legs and feet. Anything touching my legs and feet even clothes, wind, shoes and socks hurt me.

“The water on my legs hurts which is why I stopped swimming and kind of lost myself for a while. I had mental health issues because I’d gone from a triathlete to having to walk with two crutches and then eventually into a wheelchair.

“It’s a huge transition. The only way I can describe it is, you grieve your old life.

“When you go from being fully able bodied to then suddenly disabled, you have to find yourself and work out what your personality is as that disabled person because there are things that you could do before that you can’t do anymore, so it’s really frustrating.

“But I eventually got put onto a pain management programme and I worked hard with the hydrotherapy.

“At first I couldn’t even get in the water because it hurt my legs too much because of the sensitivity.

“Gradually I managed to increase my amount of time in the hydrotherapy pool but then discovered that when I tried to transfer it into a swimming pool, because the water is colder, it was almost back at square one again.

“I literally started swimming again by standing in the swimming pool for about five minutes maximum and then I’d get out and go home, because it was all I could stand on my legs.

“I had to build it up and it was a good month and a half before I started physically swimming because I just couldn’t stand the pain.

“It was learning to tolerate the pain and still be able to do things. The pain is there, but it doesn’t register as bad as the pain is.”

Sophie Etheridge swimming Thames Marathon Swim

Since learning how to manage her pain as best as possible, Sophie has completed a number of long distance swims, but she’s aiming even higher.

At 16-years-old she was part of a cross-Channel relay swim, but had to pull out due to illness.

On that day, after stepping down from the team, she made the decision that one day she will return and complete a solo Channel swim – and that dream is still very much alive.

In 2016 alongside a friend, Sophie completed the one mile distance in the Great Swim and admits ‘I didn’t really stop’.

“I also did a 3km swim that year and then the following year I built up to doing a 5k swim. Then the year after that it was a 10k swim. I then did the Thames Marathon swim which is a 14km swim,” she added.

“Last year I did a 10 mile swim at Lake Tal-y-llyn and that was a test to see if I had the endurance and mentality to be able to do a proper long swim.

“It was only a few kilometres short of the distance of Windermere one way and I still really enjoyed it.

“So Windermere is sort of a step up to hopefully in the future, swimming the Channel.”

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