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Overcoming my sea fear one swim at a time

It might seem unbelievable to those people who have seen me regularly posting up pictures of open water swimming, but up until 2 years ago I couldn’t open my eyes under the water without freaking out at the gloom below. In fact, I still can’t open my eyes in lakes where it is very dark – that’s one thing I haven’t managed to conquer yet. The sea, in particular, was a source of both deep fear, and desire. I had a deep-rooted fear of the sea, but yet I wanted desperately to enjoy it freely, like so many other people I would watch in the waves from the shoreline.

My love of the sea began, as with most people, when I was young, when I was lucky enough to be growing up within 5 miles of the beautiful Northumbrian coastline. My brother and I spent many a happy, if frozen, hour in the sea all throughout the year. By the age of 8 I was learning how to sail, which I loved doing as I was out on the open waves feeling free. Then it all went wrong. It’s almost farcical, actually. What went so terribly wrong that I never again went out of my depth in the sea, or on a boat, without feeling utterly terrified? Fellow children of the 1980’s might understand….

Yep, I watched the film Jaws! It was big at the time, loads of children scaring themselves to death watching the ridiculously large great white shark dragging people off boats and under the water to their bloody demise. At such a young, impressionable age, it had a huge impact on me. No matter how logically I tried to look at it, knowing that there were no sharks (other than friendly basking sharks) in sea around where I live, I couldn’t shift my fear. For more than 30 years I remained too scared of the sea to enjoy it, never able to go out of my depth if I couldn’t see, never able to consider swimming out further than a few metres from the shore. But deep inside me, I still had the burning passion for the sea which I had had when I was younger. I really really wanted it back.

I heard about a local group of sea swimmers, and decided that I would borrow a wetsuit and go along to a sea swim in March 2017. There was only one other swimmer there, a friendly, likeable lady called Sarah, who confessed that she also didn’t like going out of her depth, but loved to be in the sea. The photo taken on that day is comical really. I was so scared. It was a pivotal moment. I was forcing myself to do something I was genuinely frightened of because the thing I wanted – to enjoy being in the sea – was a greater pull than the fear was a barrier. I was absolutely determined to overcome my fear – maybe not that day, but one day in the future, whenever that might be. I didn’t stay in long, and didn’t truly enjoy it all, my nerves spoiling the joy I should have got out of it. But, I had taken that first step.