UK fitness professional and entrepreneur Elle Linton said that learning to swim changed her life after taking up the sport in her early thirties.
As part of the England Swims campaign, the national governing body for aquatics, Swim England, is sharing stories of individuals, their perceptions of the sector and any barriers they face to participation in water-based activity.
Elle, who runs the popular Keep It SimpElle blog, took up swimming after deciding to take part in the Windsor Triathlon back in 2015.
She spent the early years of her life in Barbados before moving to the UK at the age of seven.
Elle never properly learnt to swim when she was younger, despite having a keen interest in sport and said that learning to swim as an adult was one of the most rewarding things that she’s ever done.
She said: “Learning to swim as an adult in my thirties, was undoubtedly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done yet at the same time it was rewarding and liberating.
“I can’t even describe what the sense of accomplishment truly felt like, to be honest, nor am I exaggerating when I say learning to swim was a skill that changed my life.”
"I felt like swimming was a life skill, that I should be able to do"
Growing up on the beaches of Barbados, Elle remembers being in the water from a young age but never properly learning how to swim.
She said: “I have memories of being a small child in Barbados (six years old or younger) and spending time at the beach with friends and family… even in the water but never swimming.”
After moving to the UK, her new school only had lessons sporadically and therefore she was never able to learn and progress with her new friends like she always wanted to.
Elle added: “I remember someone telling me that ‘no one forgets how to swim’ but somehow I managed. But maybe that was because I never learnt properly?”
“My best friend in primary school was a great swimmer and I remember watching her do breaststroke and decided that was what I wanted to do too.
“I did manage to gain my length certificate (25m) with my sad attempt at breaststroke though then it was only secondary school and no more swimming lessons.”
For Elle, barriers were stopping her from getting involved with swimming which many people from ethnically-diverse backgrounds suffer from today.
“I didn’t have the confidence to put my face under water so it was more like a ‘wading in a Greek pool’ kind of swim.
“For me though, it wasn’t just a lack of confidence. “I had my hair chemically straightened (relaxed) since the age of 9 and chlorine was another chemical my hair didn’t need.
“My hair wash routine wasn’t straightforward and the time needed post-swim was definitely a barrier to me continuing.
“As I got older though, I felt like swimming was a life skill… it was something I should be able to do and something I wanted to do but cost and time was yet more barriers at the time.”
Her love for the water was always there however and since learning to swim she’s noticed how much her life has changed.
“Before I learnt to swim, I would go on vacations and avoid the pool or the sea. “I always felt like a worst-case scenario, I’d be able to tread water should I need to, but I wasn’t 100% confident about that.
“Now though, I’m excited to get back in the water, see where I’m at and find that love for the water that I worked so hard for!”
"My memories of learning to swim are some of my greatest"
On overcoming her barriers Elle said it was a change in hair routine that gave her the confidence to get into the water.
“I think the biggest shift for me happened after I stopped relaxing my hair. “It meant I didn’t have to worry about the chemicals and my post-swim hair wash routine was a basic wash and go with natural hair.”
Upon seeing the opportunity to do a triathlon, Elle couldn’t say no and jumped at the idea to take up the challenge.
“When the opportunity to do a triathlon arose, it seemed like a good idea!
After signing up, she then set out on her journey to learn how to swim, taking up lessons in her local area.
“I had about six months to figure out this swimming thing, so I asked friends for swimming lesson recommendations and found Strictly Swimming.
“After chatting to them, we decided one-to-one lessons were the best place to start and when ready I could move onto the small group sessions specifically for triathlon.”
Elle completed the Triathlon in 2015, which included a 750m swim across the River Thames in a time of 46:14 after just her six months of learning.
She encourages everyone to take up swimming as it has so many benefits on people’s lives and has given her some of her greatest memories.
“My memories of learning to swim are some of my greatest.
“I found swimming to be one of the best ways to stay fit and active with benefits like helping to build muscle strength and endurance as well as being a low impact sport.
“It also was the sport that made me the hungriest… ever!”