Sophie Etheridge Open Water Swimming Success

Swimming the length of Lake Windermere is a challenge that many long-distance open water swimmers want to take on, however, not that many of them attempt a 2 way swim because its a 21.5 mile swim, only 500m shorter than swimming the channel!

In 2011 Sophie was hit by a car whilst cycling and from there developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and PTSD. She did no sports for 5 years but in 2016 she started getting back into sports. She started swimming again but found she was unable to kick her legs and that just being in the water was painful due to the hypersensitivity caused by her CRPS. Through Living Sport Sophie discovered Wheelchair Racing and fell in love with the sport but she needed to purchase her own racing wheelchair. To do this Sophie applied to many places for funding and grants, one of these places was the disability charity Arctic One. Thanks to generosity from friends, family and a few charities she was able to purchase her chair. When this happened Sophie knew that one day she wanted to do a big fundraising challenge to raise money for Arctic One. So, the idea of swimming the length of the longest lake in England 2 way was born.

Over the past few years Sophie had been building up the distances she was swimming and the amount of training she was doing and in 2019 she finally felt confident that she would be able to complete her challenge of 2 way Windermere. After finding a company that would provide safety cover for her swim and were happy to support a disabled athlete the swim was booked for September 2020. However, Covid19 put a halt to training and the swim meaning the swim was postponed to 1st September this year.

This gave Sophie the chance to train for longer and get her chronic illnesses more under control. It also allowed her to start campaigning for disabled open water swimmers and start work on raising awareness of open water swimmers with disabilities. She created the Facebook group Adaptive/Disabled Open Water Swimmers in January 2021 and since then has worked to raise awareness by writing various articles and by talking to event organisers to make evens more inclusive. Sophie hoped that by completing Windermere she would not only raise £1000 for Arctic One but also raise awareness of disabled swimmers.

Living close to the River Ouse Sophie was able to do her long training swims with friends in the river, the longest swim being done from Brampton all the way to St.Ives. Training had been going well and Sophie was in the best place possible to take on the biggest challenge of her life but 6 weeks before the swim Sophie ended up in hospital for a week. After scans they discovered that she had Gallstones and an infection of the Gallbladder but after a week of antibiotics, she was allowed home to recover and 4 days later was back in the water to continue her training.

Swimming was painful due to still having pain in her Gallbladder but she kept swimming despite this. Sophie and her friend Val planned her final long swim in the river for 1 month before Windermere so that she could prepare mentally and taper before heading to Windermere for the big swim.

Halfway through the final swim Sophies pain increased and she had to get out, an hour later she was in the back of an ambulance on her way back to hospital. The next day, which was 4 weeks to the day of her 2 way Windermere attempt she was in surgery. The first question she asked when she came round from surgery “when can I get back in the pool and the river?”. The answer “2 weeks before the pool, 3 weeks until the river”, that left Sophie 1 week before her Windermere Swim to get back in the water. Everyone thought she would postpone the swim, but incredibly she decided to go ahead with it. She said “I will just go and see what happens and do my best” and that is exactly what she did.

Sophie started her swim just before 7am on Wednesday 1st September and 16 hours and 41 minutes later she finished. You can read more about her exciting swim on her blog here.

After the swim Sophie said “I am pleased, proud and a little surprised that I managed to complete my swim, it’s a huge achievement and I am thrilled with the amount of money I have raised for such an amazing charity. I also hope that I have shown what disabled swimmers can achieve with the right training, help and support behind them. I hope I am able to inspire others, especially those with disabilities into Open Water”

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