Ruth is swimming because she knows what it’s like to need help after a spinal cord injury
I'd heard about the swim in 2018 when I was a patient in the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Stanmore and used the Aspire Leisure Centre regularly. I'd seen the signage promoting the event and asked some of the leisure centre staff about it. I thought it was something I'd like to do in the future, but would never have believed at the time that I'd be signing up for it just a year later.
I decided to take on the challenge because I've been very fortunate and have made huge progress with my recovery.
Coming from a place where I understand exactly what it’s like to need help navigating life with a spinal cord injury, to being in a position where I could actually contribute really pushed me to take on the challenge
I also wanted to challenge myself and incorporate more exercise into my daily life. As I have a spinal cord injury, swimming is easier for me than other sports or activities, so I had the attitude of 'I can, so I will'.
I've always liked swimming and I'd say that I was an 'ok' swimmer. I spent my childhood summers in swimming pools and swam a little while I was going through rehabilitation. Since starting the challenge I’ve discovered that I wasn't as good as I always thought I was and have learned loads about breathing and technique.
I enjoy swimming because it's almost possible to forget that you have a spinal cord injury when you're in the water. I still have trouble keeping my hips straight and my legs don't exactly do what I'd like them to do, but I definitely think that all this swimming is helping them to strengthen. I feel a great sense of achievement every time I get out of the pool, regardless of whether I've done 20 lengths or 60.
This year I have started a podcast called This Is Spinal Crap with a group of friends. There are six of us, all former patients of the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre and we were on the team for the Inter Spinal Unit Games earlier this year. We quickly became friends and stayed in contact. Our conversations we had were so hilarious that we felt that they should be recorded, so the idea was born that we should start a podcast together… and This is Spinal Crap was born.
It's been amazing how the podcast has been received. The Spinal Cord Injury community has really taken us under their wing. We've had an amazing response from listeners and so many messages of support. People have been in touch to tell us their own stories and tell us how much the podcast has helped them. It's felt very worthwhile.
At first, we got a little carried away and four of us agreed to take on the Aspire Channel Swim. My favourite line in our last episode of the podcast when I was trying to talk everyone into doing the swim was 'I'm not going to put you on the spot, but will we say we're all in?' When it came down to it, though, we realised that, for some, swimming was just a recipe for drowning. We all wanted to do it, but these Spinal Cord Injuries are a nuisance! So I said I'd take this one for the team and represent us all. Ian is helping now too, and the rest of the team (Chris, Grace, Rubayet and Mark) are our cheerleaders.
We were all keen because a few of the team have had support from Aspire with funding and fundraising. We've all met the lovely Lindsey who is an Aspire Independent Living Advisor at the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre and have had help and support from her on all sorts of issues like guidance on financial support and benefits, housing, managing relationships, staying positive, toilet worries and all sorts. She's fab!
My fundraising is going well. I have set up my JustGiving page and shared it on Facebook and Instagram. I update my stories regularly, but will give it another good push when I've reached the half way point. The aim is to reach £500 and right now I'm 50% of the way there with just four miles swum. I think, though, that more people will donate when they really see I've covered some distance.
I'm so grateful to be in a position to do this challenge because I understand what it's like to need help. If doing this helps somebody else in that position, even a little bit, then it will be worth doing.