Cat and Claire – Our Story

Cat and Claire first met on the Great East Swim Outreach Programme in 2017.

Cat’s motivation for taking part that year was because she was turning 40 and she wanted a challenge, something she could do for herself. She was spending a lot of time at Crown Pools because her daughter was swimming a lot.

She saw the poster about the outreach programme and thought it might be a good idea to motivate her to become more active even though she wasn’t physically active at all at that time.

Cat suffers with health issues so she was quite nervous at first, but she quickly felt at ease and met Claire and some of the others who she gelled with straight away. During the programme she found that she slept better, her moods were improved and she felt physically healthier which was important for her.

Cat said “ Although it was great feeling physically healthier, for me, the mental health benefits and how it made me feel were so much better. I felt more confident and had more energy.”

Claire’s motivation for joining the programme on the other hand was somewhat different.

In 1995 Claire had suffered a mental breakdown mainly due to work stresses and ever since then had been living with mental health issues. She felt as though she was ‘stuck in life’ and not really getting anywhere when she saw details about the programme on her FaceBook feed and she thought to herself “I think I can do this.”

Claire turned up for the first session early, and saw everyone else arriving and she felt intimidated but didn’t want to give up so soon.

She said “I had always loved being in the water so I wanted to stick with it and give it a chance.”

She was almost completely sedentary when she started the programme.

During the programme, Claire felt like she was getting stronger, physically, but also her motivation for life was coming back and she felt the swimming cleared her head.

The physical benefits were a by-product but the mental health benefits were the main thing. Her eating improved as a result of the swimming and she lost about 3 stone this year, plus she felt more toned.

Claire said “Also finding people who were like minded and not judgemental that I could talk to about my issues was so important .

At the start I was really self conscious about my size but by the end I lost all inhibitions about my body so it definitely boosted my confidence and self esteem.”

She continued “The programme wasn’t easy as such, but pushing myself was important for me, it gave me the focus I needed to get out of the rut I was in.”

Although both Cat and Claire benefited from the programme in 2017, they agree that it is their friendship which has evolved from it which is by far the most important thing for them.

Cat remembers “ There was a small mixed gender group of us that kind of gelled. We became friends, chatting and training together and it was Claire that mentioned her mental health to us all first. This definitely broke the ice so we all started talking to each other about our own particular stories and it turned out that we were all a little bit broken. But having similar experiences just made our bond stronger.

Cat and Claire both competed the 1 mile swim in 2017 and their friendship has gone from strength to strength. They socialise together regularly and they have developed a passion for outdoor swimming events.

This year they have taken part in six swims including the Great North Swim, the Cambridge Swim, Dedham to Flatford and of course the Great East Swim again.

Last year, Claire also did the Serpentine Swim which was a really big deal for her, in terms of going up to London and coping with all the people, but the sense of achievement she felt after completing it was therapeutic.

She says “One of the things you’re not aware of when you take part in the swims is the resilience it gives you because you feel that if you can achieve that, then you can achieve anything.”

“Also the feeling of being in the water is so holistically good for you and having a friend to go swimming with is so important. We often find that we go swimming just because we don’t want to let each other down. Sometimes we train hard and sometimes we socially train and talk all the way through our swim about things that are bothering us which is so good for us.”

Claire is in the process of getting divorced and the swimming has given her the mental endurance to be able to cope better. She thinks without it, she wouldn’t be in a good place mentally right now. In addition to the swimming, she is now also able to walk her dog at least two miles every day, something she was not capable to doing before the Programme.

Cat and Claire never expected to find friends during the outreach programme and they would never have met in any other circumstances, but their friendship is strong and supportive and they have a lot of fun together.

Cat summed up her experience of taking part in the swim “There’s been nothing but positives for me. My family is proud of me, they see that I’m happier and that’s a good thing for us all. I’m now active, I’ve even joined a gym so I feel so much better about myself, healthier too, and I’ve found a really lovely friend in Claire”

Claire said “I suspect taking part in this programme and the push it gave me to find my self esteem, hasn’t been great for my marriage, but in a good way.”

She explained “Looking back on it, I was subservient in the relationship and this wasn’t healthy for me. The swimming has taught me to be confident, resilient and to face up to difficult things. Knowing that I’m able to stand up for myself and cope with whatever life throws at me is empowering, it’s literally changed my life.”

Claire went to Barbados in November to take part in an outdoor swim and they both plan on doing many more outdoor swims in 2019. They’ve already signed up for the Fritton Swim, the Serpentine and are planning to do the Great East Swim again.

GREAT EAST SWIM 2018 OUTREACH PROGRAMME

Supported by Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Sport, Sport England, Allied Health Professionals, and local pool operators, aims to support inactive residents, who want to make a change to their physical activity levels, using a mass participation challenge as their motivation.

The programme, provides 12 weeks of supported coaching, encouragement, membership to their local pool, free wetsuit hire, fast-track physiotherapy support and entry to either the 1/2 mile or 1 mile Great East Open Water Swim held at Alton Water reservoir near Ipswich.

In 2018, 82 people between the ages of 18 and 64 registered to take start the programme with 72 completing it.

Many are continuing to swim and exercise on a regular basis and have made a positive change to their health and physical activity levels.

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