As the Church of England and much of the media world are focused on the vote on women bishops today, I’m turning my attention to a different challenge.
I’ve put myself into training after rashly deciding to enter for the Bay2Bay swim in about 10 days time. It’s an open water swimming event of one nautical mile (1.9km) from one bay to another on the other side of the island. It happens very early in the morning and everyone wears hats, goggles, long legged serious costumes and lots of Vaseline. Last year I watched my son head into the water amidst the crowd, like a waddle of penguins (yes, that is the official group name), they rushed towards the water and soon became a blur of white water heading out to sea. It looked a bit like a mass shark attack – but that wouldn’t be a happy thought. At the time, I thought, I should do that next year – although it did look a slightly scary and a long way round the cliff lined bay to the next.
So, 12 months on I have been training – after finding myself committed late one night in the bar, it had seemed like a good idea at the time. But I’ve always enjoyed swimming and thought I was probably OK at it. That was before I joined a couple of mates at the pool. As I launched into the water attempting my very best breaststroke, I was a little put off to find them passing me on either side, heads bobbing up and down rhythmically at a speed I couldn’t hope to match. ‘Oh dear’, or words to that effect, I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this…it will take me all day.
Back home in a smaller pool I attempted to perfect my breaststroke. Someone was on hand with lots of tips… my knees weren’t coming up tightly enough, I needed to push back with my feet flat against the water… kick harder, pull the water with your hands… I swear I got slower and more uncoordinated. There was even a video of someone doing breaststroke to watch. It didn’t help.
Next session, I tried to kick harder and wider and pull more with my arms. I ended up nearly disjointing my hips. I decided to risk it and try front crawl instead – the stroke most of the swimmers were ploughing up and down the pool with. After three or four strokes I almost drowned, I couldn’t breathe… so it was back to my tortoise-like breaststroke.
Last week I was pleased to be able to complete 50 lengths in 50 minutes – that was progress. My goggles had stopped leaking…someone pointed out I had them on upside down! There was a bit of a set back when we discovered the 64 lengths we had been aiming at had turned into 78… as a nautical mile is longer than an ordinary mile. The real test, we were told, would be trying to swim in the sea.
So on Saturday I set off as early as possible to a nearby bay, to see if I could go the distance in the waves. A line of marker buoys marked the route across – which was 400 metres – I would need to do this four and half times to cover the equivalent distance for the Bay2Bay. This time I had a hat, goggles and my secret weapon ‘natural buoyancy’…
Strangely enough, because I float so easily, swimming in the sea was easier. Apart from swallowing a lot of salt water and the waves pushing me in the wrong direction, I soon got into a rhythm. My spotter from the shore hardly recognized the white cap bobbing up and down as it moved across the bay – Michael Phelps eat your heart out. Although I don’t think his bottom was quite as high out of the water as mine. I did it. But that was just the practice.
The challenge now is to keep up the training and my nerve for the event next week.
In the meantime, I’m hoping and praying the CofE rises to its own challenge and finally agrees to allow women to become bishops. If it does, I’ll be tempted to marker pen a mitre on my swimming cap as a tribute next Friday.