Why I swim – on taking the plunge, finding my pod and feeling alive

My happy place (Photo by Seagirl Annie)

Why do I swim? Because it makes me feel present, connected, alive.

Outdoor swimming is self-love

Why do I swim? Because it feels good. Because it brings me pure joy. Because it reconnects me to my true self.

I have never been a runner and I can occasionally be a hiker, but somehow, I have indisputably become a swimmer. We are who and what we love. I love swimming, ergo I’m a swimmer.

It isn’t about exercising. I don’t like this word anyway. To me exercising implies seeing your body as a machine that your brain happens to inhabit. But my body is most definitely not a machine – it is me.

I enjoy challenging myself to swimming 40 lengths (1 km) in the pool every so often. But you know what? Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been in the pool for over six months, and I haven’t missed it.

But try and keep me away from open water for more than a few days, and I start chomping at the bit.

I need this wilderness for my heart to beat.

What I like is feeling my body gliding through the water and resting in the cold embrace of the sea (or river or lake).

I love watching the soft ripples my hands make in the water as I swim the breaststroke.
I love feeling the pull of my arm and core muscles as I swim the front crawl.
I love crashing through the surface and hearing the flurry of bubbles as I dive in.

Outdoor swimming makes me feel alive.
All senses alert.
Body moving.
Mind at peace.

First sunrise swim with Brian in early October. I came out of the water feeling electrifyingly alive! The early rise, the skiff of rain on the way, the haste of borrowed time – it was all worthwhile for this. This feeling of accomplishment. This epic break in the routine. This aliveness.
You never regret a swim.

No matter how long I’ve stayed in or what distance I’ve covered (it usually is not very long at all!), I invariably come out of the water feeling strong in my body. Invincible, even. And this thrill stays with me all day.

There is courage in swimming outdoors, and there is humility. Water can’t be controlled or tamed. Water, whether it be the sea or a river or a lake, demands respect. You are only ever her guest. Should you ever forget this, it is at your own peril. Water will quickly remind you who’s boss.

Outdoor swimming reconnects me to my body, anchors me to the here and now, and my monkey mind has no choice but stop whirring for a while.

Outdoor swimming is self-care

I recall one morning in spring when, after a terrible night’s sleep, I got up, tired and morose, only to see that one of the landmark trees of our neighbourhood was missing from the skyline. Felled, like several other mature trees, by the new owners of the property it stood on.

There may have been a perfectly rational explanation for the felling of such a majestic tree. Nonetheless, my heart broke for the birds and other animals whose habitat was chainsawed in just a few minutes. Another act of war against nature.

With a heavy heart and tears streaming down my face, I walked down to the beach with Mermaid. Into the sea I went, and my inner turmoil instantly dissolved in the cold water. 

The sea invitingly stretched like a mirror under the morning sun – calm, clear, cold. For the first time in months, I had a proper swim – head in, front crawl, gliding through the crystalline water… until I got a brain freeze! Reluctantly I came out, my head as clear as the ripple-less water. 

You never regret a swim.

Outdoor swimming is community

I have written before about my pod of Greystones Seagirls (follow us here on Instagram), the amazing bunch of women I swim with all year round at the cove in Greystones. These self-styled mermaids love nothing more than sharing the swim love and tea and cakes after a dip in the cold Irish Sea.

Finding my tribe, after six years living here, has been the most unexpected side-effect of outdoor swimming. 

Why do I swim? For moments like this 👆
Moments of pure joy shared with friends. The waves were mighty this morning, and so was the craic. Joanne and I came out of the water feeling as giddy as the sea, and a powerful wave nearly wiped us out as I was taking a couple of selfies. No idea how I managed to not drop the phone and press the button at this precise instant. A strike of sea magic perhaps.

Let’s be honest, at the moment, the thought of swimming outdoors through the winter fills me with dread. Do I really want to put mysef through this again?

But the heartwarming friendship of the Greystones Seagirls makes it easy and fun. And so I will keep going to the sea. To feel connected and supported. To feel like I belong. 


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The most raw conversations can be had in the sea .. tears float and you come out feelings alive #greystonesseagirls #solidarity #support #connection #friendship #2019 #wildswimming

A post shared by Greystonesseagirls (@greystonesseagirls) on

In October, Brian and I started going for a weekly sunrise swim. Our fourth “swimrise”, as it’s called around here, was simply unforgettable. 

The sun was a no-show for our first three attempts. But on that Wednesday, it was spectacular. As the sun slowly rose above the rocks, the beach was buzzing with a festival atmosphere, with swimmers and dippers basking in the soft dawn light and the shivering post-swim elation.

Taking flight

I don’t often jump in from the rocks at the cove. In fact, until that morning, I had only done it once before. But on that day, after floating in the lush rosy reflections of a glorious sunrise, taking flight felt like the right thing to do.

Brian and I climbed up the steps at the cove, and I went first. I walked the few steps to the end of the rocks.
One look back at Brian.
One look to the right where the sun hung over the calm sea.
One look down at the water churning below the rocks.

The rock was cold beneath my feet. The breeze tingled my wet skin. My heart was in my mouth.

I jumped.

Here I was, a fully fledged mermaid (or sea witch, as it turned out later!), suspended for a split second between sky and sea. 

Crashing through the surface and coming up for air, I let out a deep sigh of relief and a loud whoop. The sea somehow always feels warmer after jumping or diving in. Like a silky salty hug.

© Niall Meehan – SeaStudio

The stars (and the sun!) aligned that morning. As luck would have it, sea photographer Niall Meehan captured me in full flight. Later that day, the response to his photo when it was shared on social media was nothing short of amazing.

My Seagirl friend Annie turned me into a witch in this hilarious Halloween-themed Insta Story.

I didn’t come back down to earth for several days. Still carried by the euphoria of that magical swim, expertly recorded for eternity. Thank you Niall.
(You can see Niall’s work at SeaStudio.ie, or @niall_verso on Instagram.)

Outdoor swimming is nature connection

Isn’t it amazing how floating between sky and sea somehow reconnects us to the earth? When I’m in the water, I am simply part of it all.

Outdoor swimming is both energising and calming.
Both movement and stillness.
Bracing yourself and letting go. 

Outdoor swimming always leaves me feeling energised, uplifted, nourished. It never fails to give me a fix of vitamin N (Nature) when I need it the most.

Vitamin Sea. It has got me through the uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic. Plus it seems to have boosted my immune system – something that is more than welcome in this year like no other.

Outdoor swimming sates my hunger for connection. Connection to myself, those around me, and this excruciatingly beautiful planet we call home.

And that, my friends, is why I swim.


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