After Jim Sheeran, 66, retired, he decided to challenge himself and try something he’d never managed to master: swimming. It started as lessons in a pool, but before he knew it he found himself diving into the icy depths of Clevedon lake.
“It was something I was very bad at,” Jim tells us. “I couldn’t work out why I was bad at it.”
Swimming was something Jim had tried on and off throughout his life, but always gave up. When he had had lessons, or gone with friends, he was told it looked like he was “fighting with the water rather than swimming.”
Retirement rolled around and Jim decided he wanted to dedicate the time to trying to conquer this life skill, but soon realised that one-to-one lessons were costly.
Luckily the push Jim needed came from his granddaughter. “It was my granddaughter who motivated me.”
I’d “smoked for 30 years,” says Jim. But, “My granddaughter said she wouldn’t come to my funeral if I was committing suicide by smoking.”
Once your granddaughter says that, it’s difficult to lapse. She drew up a contract to sign.
Jim shows us the contract on the wall. “I see that and the feeling goes away.”
With the money Jim saved from giving up smoking, he was able to afford one-to-one swimming lessons. “I googled the nearest one-to-one coach and went to him,” he tells us.
It was only a few weeks of learning before Jim found himself delving into deeper water. “I bumped into someone who offered to take me down to the lake.”
Jim suddenly found himself at the edge of a lake, steeling himself to enter the icy waters.
“Let’s see what happens here. Let’s take the first step,” he tells us he said to himself.
Despite the bracing chill of the water, Jim was completely enamoured with the experience. “After one session, I was hooked.”
Jim isn’t the only one. Thanks to starting open-water swimming, Jim has been introduced to a wider community of cold-water lovers.
Everyone is completely different. “All shapes and sizes” turn up, he tells us. “We riff off each other’s enthusiasm.”
“They all react differently to how cold the water is,” he jokes. “Some just swear all the time.”
Jim, and the open-water community, brave the cold water without wetsuits. We watch as they strip down into their bathing suits before climbing down into the lake. Nobody even seems to flinch as they enter the water.
It’s not just the thrill of the cold water that draws people back, Jim explains. Open water swimming has changed people’s lives.
“There are people in my group who have been through depression and come off medication since they started swimming.”
“People come to it shy and timid… and are whooping it up back to the car.”
It’s clear the community aspect is important for Jim. He’s greeted with warm welcomes from everyone at the lake.
“I didn’t know I’d end up in a group, I thought I’d be on my own,’ he explains. But after each swim, they normally go to a local pub or coffee shop, or someone’s house.
It’s opened up a new friendship circle for Jim and given routine and structure to his life after retirement.
Since beginning to swim, Jim’s also pushed his own boundaries even further.
“A year after just learning to swim, I’m standing at the end of a lake in the Winter Swimming World Championship.
He jokes that he looked up the slowest time from the previous year’s race and told himself he could match it. He describes the experience as one of the highlights of his life.
Jim’s retirement has yielded more excitement and adventure than he’d dreamed of and it gave him the structure back when he stopped working.
“What else would I be doing? Sat on the sofa here wishing I was out there?”
As winter looms we ask him about swimming even in the coldest months of the year.
“Going every week, once or twice a week, you hardly notice the temperature drop,” he says happily.
We struggle to believe that as the people getting out of the lake stand around shivering.
“Shivering is good,” Jim tells us. “It warms you up.”
Jim certainly seems full of energy and life. “I have never felt fitter than I am now. My everyday life is immeasurably enhanced by my swimming in open water!”
“One of the gifts of retirement is time and the time to try something new,” he adds.
It’s changed my life. It’s lifted me completely.
Posted on: 4 January 2019