Open water swimming is experiencing something of a renaissance. It’s becoming the sport du jour for people looking for a new challenge, to prove their fitness or to experience the myriad of health benefits that advocates of open water swimming proclaim. We’ll be exploring these benefits, and the wonderful outdoor swimming community in later posts, but for now, we chat to Vicky Malmsjo, and open water swimming coach from Essex and discuss what it means to her.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I started to swim after I had been diagnosed in my early thirties with degenerative disc disease which is a spinal condition that left me unable to walk properly for three months. I am currently 37 years old but my spine is in its 80’s. Through swimming, first in a pool and then moving on to open water (lakes, river and the sea) I found that I not only reduced the pain and symptoms of my disease, I also avoided any surgery and baffled many medical professionals along the way!

In the last 18 months, I have had the most incredible journey. Swimming has completely changed my life in so many ways. Not only has it dramatically improved my health it has also introduced me to so many new people and places and now I am enormously proud to say that is also my job.

There are so many highlights and special moments I could tell you about and I could fill these pages 10 times over, but one of my most favourite moments so far has to be that I was one of the 300 open water swimmers that completed the Great British Swim with Ross Edgely. He spent five months at sea and was the first person to swim 1780 miles around the coast of Great Britain. I swam the final mile back to shore alongside him and until that morning I had NEVER swum in the sea before!

I have been told on many occasions that my story is inspiring and this is why I set up my business Swimspirational Open Water Coaching. My goal is now to inspire other people. I am a firm believer that we are all capable of achieving great things and that by having the right mindset and believing in ourselves, anything is possible. If you are reading this, I believe in you already.

I am now incredibly proud to call myself a coach. I am a fully qualified STA Level 2 open water coach and received my training from Double Open Water World Champion and Olympic Medallist Kerri-Anne Payne. I am also a fully qualified Swim England Level 2 Swimming Teacher.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in getting your business up and runnning?

I have an endless supply of both motivation and energy, both of which have been incredibly useful in setting up my business. I believe in myself 100% and this is what drives me to keep pushing myself forward. Personally, I do not see challenges, only possibilities.

What has been your proudest moment so far?

The swimmers that I meet continue to make me proud. For me, there is nothing better than someone turning around and saying something like “because of you I didn’t give up” I absolutely love what I do. I feel like I was born to swim and I was born to share my love of swimming with others. Helping the people that chose to work with me fulfil their own personal objectives is why I do what I do.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned and what impact has it had on what you do going forward?

That there is just not enough time in the day and you probably can’t do everything yourself (even if you think you can!) The impact that this has had on me is burn out! I am guilty of doing too much and this can have negative implications on both my health and personal life. It is important to remember that you can ask for help and you have to look after yourself before you can look after the business.

Have you learned anything from the process of setting up the business that influences your daily life?

Setting up the business has re-inforced my self-belief and this can be transferred to all other aspects of my life.

What benefits of swimming were the most surprising to you?

Where do I start….! Swimming literally saved me. I was unable to walk properly, stuck inside my house in pain, taking an obscene amount of prescribed pain killers and feeling pretty depressed. When I first went to a pool, I walked (if you can describe it like that) up and down. I remember looking over at the “fast” lane and saying to myself I’m going to get in there. I kept going back and each time did a little bit more. I taught myself how to swim front crawl watching youtube videos on total immersion and soon noticed that the style of swimming was improving my condition. So much so that when I saw the orthopaedic surgeon he looked at the MRI results, looked at me and listened to what I was telling him I was doing and said no that can’t be possible. I now swim every day of my life.

I have also found that the benefits of cold water swimming have also been just as important. Coldwater reduces inflammation and joint pain. Swimming outside has also improved my mental health as I personally find being at one with nature, swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea to be both calming and exhilarating at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to lay on their back at the end of a swim and look up at the sky and see rainbows, sunsets or birds flying high?

Which female the most inspiring to you?

Sarah Thomas who recently became the first woman to swim the English channel four times non-stop. She did this only one year after being treated for breast cancer and just goes to show how truly unstoppable a woman can be once she sets her mind to something.

What would you say to anyone who is nervous about starting open water swimming?

Many of the swimmers that I coach come to me to experience their first open water swim. I really enjoy working with newbies as its so wonderful to be part of that first immersion with them. My advice for a new starter would be to find a social swimming group in your local area, these can usually be found on Facebook and the Outdoor Swimming Society is a good place to start your search.

Be aware of the location you swim in and attend organised sessions and always swim in groups. Have the right kit, open water swimming will be a lot colder than the pool. Even in summer months our lakes and rivers can be between 17-20 degrees. Anything below 16 degrees is classified as cold water swimming. You may want to wear a wetsuit and thermal socks/gloves. Always acclimatise slowly, regulate your breathing and stay calm. Do not stay in for too long and warm up afterwards with lots of loose layers and a warm drink.

Do you have any tips on overcoming adversity to achieve your goals?
To believe in yourself. The only person that can ever stop you achieving your goals is you. I tell myself daily “you are unstoppable” and this gets the fire in my belly going. I also have my own personal power ballad megamix which I listen to before I need to do something that requires lots of energy (mental or physical) Also surround yourself with the right people. Join local networking groups where you can spend time with other business owners, this has been key for me. Plus you never know who you might meet there!

Find Vicky on Facebook at Swimspirational Open Water Coaching
And on Instagram @swimspirational_openwatercoach

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