• Sylvia Mac

Cross Continent Open Water Swimmer

When I was training twice a day as a competitive swimmer with the local club, I would never imagine 40 years on I would be revisiting weeks of swim sessions. Two years prior I was tweeting about my campaigns and Olympic Swimmer Sharron Davies had replied me. Sharron was my dads absolute idol as he wanted me and my sister to be champion swimmers just like her. Sadly my dad had passed away during the London Olympics 2012 and would have been so proud of me meeting Sharron in her hometown of Bath. I remember walking down to the rugby club and seeing this tall slim figure with long blonde hair in the distance. As I approached her I felt really nervous and afraid to say 'Its me, I've arrived'. Luckily she knew we were meeting and quickly left together off to a local coffee shop. We sat together talking about my campaigns and how she could help. She told me that she would love to be a Patron of Love Disfigure if it ever become a Charity. I was in so much shock that when I reached my car, I broke down crying with happiness. I couldn't believe Sharron Davies wanted to help me with my work. That day she gave me an email contact for Greg Whyte. I contacted Greg and met him in his offices at Harley street. I had read about Greg but didn't even realise he was an Olympian and that he raised millions for Sport Relief and Comic Relief and was often seen on our tv screens supporting celebrities in their quests to challenge their own sporting goals. We went off to a coffee shop and I recall his legs going past me as they were so long as his extremely tall. We spoke about what type of swim challenges I could do. It was so important to me to do something amazing and show others with visible and hidden differences that anything in life is possible. After spending most of my life hiding my body from the world and never achieving anything great, it was time for me to push myself to the limits. My mental health had been affected so much throughout my life that it was time to say 'this is me'. I wanted to face my fears of Open water and asked Greg if it was possible for me to swim the Channel. Greg had swam the Channel with David Walliams and advised me that it was tough so I went away to think of something else. A year had passed and Greg and I met again to discuss some new challenges. He told me about the Bosphorous, Lake District and Loch Lomond for me to go away and explore which one I wanted to challenge myself to. After several emails back and forth I decided I would swim the Bosphorous which is a channel of water set in Istanbul where you can swim from Asia to Europe. It really appealed to me as it seemed to be the hardest and most challenging of the three swims. Greg agreed and set me out quarterly training plans. It was really tough training 4 days a week in the pool and exercising at home. My body was no longer that young fit strong competitive swimmer like all those years ago. I did my best and videoed my training to show everyone on social media my progress.

I began swimming in January 2019 and my Bosphorous Swim was set in mid July. Greg introduced me to his good friend Ben Hull who happened to be an Actor well known for his parts on tv soaps such as Holby City and Hollyoaks. I wanted my journey to go out to as many people as possible to show that no matter how many years you suffer with your mental health and own body image you can find ways to combat it. So together we decided to film my progress as it was so important to share real struggles and real life goals. Thankfully Greg agreed and the filming began which will be shown in a series called Extraordinary People. I would never dream of ever being extraordinary as my self worth was zero but I was finally in a place where I could find my inner beauty and help support others who had lost their way in life.

We decided to meet up every 6 weeks and track my progress. I had only ever swam in the local lido or council owned pool so swimming outside for me was to be a first. I began my training inside at first then as the weather warmed up, I trained at the lido. It was such a lovely experience swimming in the rain and the sun. I began to get stronger and loved having a goal and sticking to Greg's training schedules. Some swimming brands had caught sight of what I was doing and sent me swimming gear which really helped. It was so important for me to wear open back costumes to show my scars and allow people with visible and hidden differences to feel empowered and inspired to embrace their bodies too.

Zoggs sent me this lovely costume in the photo that felt so good when training and some really great goggles and hats too. Later on, Speedo also sent me some swimming gear towards my swim challenge.

My mornings always began with a cuppa tea and I would create my own green shake to drink straight after swimming. The shake consisted of banana, kiwi, apple, kale, spinach, garlic, green tea, honey, chia seeds to give me a boost as I would skip breakfast for my swim.

My swim bag was always so heavy as I would throw in 3 costumes, 2 hats, 3 goggles, towel then all my wonderful products gifted to me from Nivea. I since have become a Nivea family member and always been a huge supporter of their products. When I was a little girl, my mother would use Nivea cream on my scars over my back . I never forget the smell of it and how thick the cream was. I loved to use the shower cream and after showering, all their fantastic products that really suited my skin and still do today!

After 6 months of training in the pools, Marlow River and Brighton sea, it was now time for me to challenge myself to my biggest scariest swim of all time, the Bosphorous. I was all packed and ready to go to Istanbul accompanied by Greg and Ben. The journey was amazing and the swim mentally and physically challenging but I made it to the end. I am now an Open Water Cross Continent Swimmer!! Can you imagine it? I actually have to pinch myself to believe I made it across and out the other side. If you want to hear more, get ready for my next blog coming soon 'Bosphorous, Scars & Mental Health'.

A film will be coming soon called 'Extraordinary People' by Prof Greg Whyte filmed by Ben Hull.

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