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A bunch of swimmers racing in a lake

June 21 and 22 | Lake Coniston

Lake Coniston – The Swim That Almost Was

By Jason Richards

On the weekend of 21 and 22 June, Victoria, Ben, Paeony and I made the annual pilgrimage to Lake Coniston in the Lake District. 

It felt like we’d been packing our bags, and all the stuff the twins would need, for weeks ahead of actually leaving. Victoria had made lists and an itinerary to ensure the logistical operation was timed precisely in line with the twins’, sleeping and feeding requirements. In my usual fashion, I left my own packing until the night before we left. I’ve always been so used to travelling around the world at the drop of a hat with my wheelchair racing,that my bag was almost always ready just to pick up and go. However, the lack of racing since the twins arrived on the scene in November, meant that my bag was far from organised and I seemed to spend the entire evening trying to find all the stuff I used to have ready to go at a moment’s notice. 

We managed to get the S-MAX loaded to the brim on the Friday morning and set off at our designated time to co-ordinate with the twins’ two-hour lunchtime sleep. Once we’d dampened down any rattles from my wheelchair wheels, the twins were fast asleep and the road twisted and turned along the River Ure as we progressed towards our destination. As Victoria ‘rested her eyelids’, I had one eye on the road and one on the sat nav to try and ensure we arrived at the Raymond Priestley Centre at our allotted time. 

The Raymond Priestley Centre is part of Birmingham University and it was there we would join the members of the Newcastle Outdoor Activity Club (NOAC) for a weekend of high octane activity. On offer this year to the hardy bunch were activities such as mountain biking, gorge walking, sailing and wind surfing, kayaking and the rope assault course. At the early morning briefing on the Saturday I did offer ‘extreme babysitting’ as an option but there were few brave enough to take on the challenge of Ben and Paeony. As a result, Victoria and I looked on as the intrepid group were clad in waterproofs, wetsuits etc and headed off for their morning activities. 

Last year Victoria was pregnant but we still managed mountain biking (her, not me), kayaking and some long walks along the shore of Lake Coniston. However, this year we were resigned to our parental duties. As the morning sped on, the forecasted clouds soon gathered and by the time everyone returned from their activities the heavens had opened and the rain was here to stay for the weekend. We hoped that would deter some people from heading out in the afternoon so that we could get some help with the twins, but the NOAC are made from stern stuff and were soon back out in the torrential rain for more of the same. 

There is usually a barbeque on the Saturday evening but this year there was a long line for the grill in the kitchen, as the weather put paid to any fire staying lit long enough to cremate a sausage or two. 

It was the Sunday morning we had gone for though, as this is the annual duel with the waters of Lake Coniston. A select few head across the lake by boat and then one by one plummet into the dark water and swim the 400 m or so back across the lake. There we usually head for the hottest showers until our bones are finally warmed through again and then sit wrapped in fleeces with huge mugs of tea comparing notes on the gruelling swim. Last year I was at the peak of my fitness, having raced all season and recording personal best times in the 100 m, 200 m and 400 m, so was well equipped for a competitive swim. However, this year my usual six days per week training schedule had dropped to an average of once a week and a lack of sleep and fitness lay heavy on my mind. However, I’m not one to be beaten and my wetsuit was at the ready. As the rain fell and the wind picked up there were doubts as to whether the swim would take place. Whilst deep down I was dreading the swim, it was the reason I was there so I wanted to give it a go. 

As we assembled on the Sunday morning the rain beat down and the wind gusted giving Lake Coniston a mid-winter look, rather than the feel of mid-summer. Unfortunately, it was decided by the centre staff that the conditions were too extreme and that we would have to wait until 2009 to test our skills in the water again. 

I felt my heart sink, as this was a challenge I was looking forward to, not to mention a chance to get in some extra exercise. But one look at the smiling faces on our two little children soon made me realise that risking life and limb in adverse conditions for the sake of satisfying my own desire to achieve was simply not worth it, until next year that is! 

Besides, the warmth and comfort of the S-MAX on our return journey was far more inviting.