On one of my recent sunrise walks, the sky was perfectly clear and the sea perfectly flat and inviting. I kicked myself for not having thought to bring swimming stuff with me. Before I could lose my nerve, I got in touch with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, Julie, and asked her if she’d like to join me for a swim the next morning. I knew that if I was committed to meeting someone, I wouldn’t be able to talk myself out of it!

We got up bright and early in the morning and had a short walk before stripping down to our swimwear and making our way to the water. A regular swimmer, Julie was straight in, head down and swimming away without a moment’s hesitation. We swam around and watched the sun brighten the sky around us, enjoying the peace of the quiet morning and the beach almost to ourselves. She told me how sea swimming has become her thinking space, as well as introducing her to a whole new group of friends through Healthscape.

The first time Julie and I swam together was on 1st December 2020. Throughout lockdown the team at Volunteering in Health had often been meeting for morning walks on the sea wall in Teignmouth to help us feel connected to each other, even when we weren’t able to meet in person for work.

This time Julie and I had set ourselves a goal to go for a swim in the sea as we watched the sun rise. Though Julie loves swimming, she hadn’t swam in the sea for years, and certainly not in England in December first thing in the morning! We talked through how it was a huge achievement just to be up and out so early in the day, how even taking our shoes and socks off and having a paddle in the icy waves was something to celebrate, something more than most people would do – most people of course still being tucked up safe and warm in their beds at this time!

After a walk to warm ourselves up a little and build our courage, we made our way to the beach to get changed into our swimming gear (including Santa hats to keep us warm!). Julie was visibly nervous, and it was starting to make me wonder if this was a thoroughly stupid and potentially even dangerous idea.

We made our way bravely into the breaking waves, which seemed to have doubled in size since the beginning of our walk, and started to slowly enter the water. All the while we were screeching loudly about the cold, me repeating, “just getting this far is something to celebrate.”

Then fate took it out of our hands: she didn’t want us to fail with our goal. A wave came out of nowhere, knocking us both off our feet – and our hats off our heads. This confirmed for me that it had in fact been a terrible idea, and that I must get Julie back to shore immediately. Was she ok? Was this a work meeting? Should I have done a written risk assessment?

But then I looked over to Julie, who was now happily playing in the waves, swimming around in circles, with the biggest grin I’ve ever seen. I joined her, but soon got cold and made my way to shore, unable to get her to get out with me! She hasn’t looked back and goes in at least once a week now.

If you’d like to set yourself a goal that pushes you out of your comfort zone and would like someone to help you achieve it – as an accountability buddy or perhaps even to join you – please get in touch!