"This time you've gone too far, you're officially mad and there's no way you'll finish it." Not my words but everyone else's when I shared my decision to take on the 2019 Swimathon Triple 5K challenge. Previously I'd completed the single 5K challenge, in 2016 and 2018. I signed up again for this year with the aim of beating my personal best time of 1:59:45. They'd announced the brand new triple 5K challenge but I'd taken one look at it, laughed at how insane it sounded and felt sorry for anyone attempting it. Basically it was 5K or 200 lengths on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Both times I'd completed the single 5K it took 3 days to recover and that was just being able to walk in a straight line, raise my arms and say something that was clearly decipherable. Doing the triple I'd have 24 hours or less between swims along with a two hour party on the Saturday morning. Clearly this wasn't something that felt achievable to me in any way.
Two weeks later I was with a friend who had signed up for the triple and he almost scoffed at how I wasn't doing it. I thought about it and soon realised two things: 1) This would be a real challenge, maybe my biggest ever, beating my KiIimanjaro climb and eating 10 Bounty Bars in a row. Beating my personal best wasn't really something high to aim for. 2) One thing I've never been short of is self belief and mental strength. This would test both massively. The next day I changed to the triple at the challenge was on!
Katie (now 12) was going to aim for the 2.5K or 100 lengths which was further than she'd ever swam before. I decided that I wanted to swim each 5K in memory of someone who'd had cancer / leukaemia and who had inspired me. I'll finish this with a few words about them so hopefully you'll get a flavour of what they were like.
Training has been mostly together before school for about an hour at a time. Last week I had one swim of 172 lengths, went home and collapsed for 24 hours. At the time of writing this I have 9 days til the first swim and the most I've completed in a week has been 372 lengths. I'm also eating everything I can find which is mostly biscuits, Katie's practice Swiss Rolls (for her school Bake Off competition) and toasted Cholla with peanut butter and jam. I keep repeating to myself "Today I'm drawing a line and eating healthily" but then eat a big lump of cheese and seven Weetabix. I'll continue to work on my emotional eating later, for now I'll just focus on the swimming.
So, here are my three inspirational heroes who I'll be thinking of as I'm smashing each swim. You might have known them, maybe you didn't but believe me, they were all very special.
Swim 1: 29th March (12pm - Northolt) In Memory of Steve Evans
I first met Steve in September 2012 at Kidology, a children's entertainer's convention in Wolverhampton. He was comparing the event and I immediately warmed to him. He was funny, genuine, sincere, had an almost child like enthusiasm and was the kind of person that you couldn't help but like. It was a year later at the same convention that I really got to hear from him about his journey. On the stage he had tearfully thanked everyone for their support and I wasn't sure what had happened. We spoke afterwards and he explained that he had terminal stomach cancer. He'd been given a few months to live and had already lasted a year.
He spoke in a very matter of fact way about the disease and enthused about how lucky he was to have the life he had. He appreciated everything he had especially his family and friends and was just so overwhelmingly positive about everything. He was grateful for every minute he had and wanted to enjoy the time he had left. He enthused how we should all do the same. Over the next few months he appeared on Breakfast TV to talk about his journey. His upbeat nature, positiveness and sense of humour was picked up on and loved by the viewers in their thousands.
He sadly finally lost his battle in January 2014 aged 52. I went to his funeral along with around 500 others and was struck by the love and respect in the room for the "bloke from the council" as he liked to be known as. I still think about him a lot as I know others do. He's one of the most inspiring people I've ever met and is sorely missed. You can read about, listen to and see him here and here. Please take a look / listen, he's a legend.
Swim 2: 30th March (6pm - Westminster Lodge, St Albans) In Memory of Ellie Brewer
Ellie was a good friend of my daughter Jade and came to her Batmitzvah in December 2016. I remember her dancing the night away with Jade and the rest of her friends looking so happy. A few weeks later she received the devastating news that she had leukaemia. Throughout her illness she remained positive and her strength was awe-inspiring, especially for someone so young. Her friends including Jade took part in and organised various events to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support in her name.
At one stage it looked like she was improving but then came the prognosis everyone was dreading; it was terminal. Sitting Jade down that night and telling her was the hardest thing I've had to do as a parent. I felt so helpless seeing her broken hearted. I can't begin to imagine what it was like for Ellie's family. Even now, Ellie continued to be positive and gave strength and comfort to everyone around her. Her funeral was attended by hundreds of people, mostly in bright colours as she'd requested. As with Steve, Ellie was one of the most inspiring people I ever met and I'm honoured to be swimming in her memory. I'll leave it to Jade to have the last words on Ellie.
"Ellie was an amazing, inspiring young girl who had an impact on every single person she came across in her life. She loved to dance, sing and act. In February 2017, Ellie was diagnosed with Leukaemia. The whole way through her battle she remained strong, smiling and positive and loved when her friends visited her. Ellie sadly lost her battle to cancer on the 8th of August 2017, aged 13. She was a great friend of mine who is missed by everyone- and has and will always have a special place in my heart."
Swim 3: 31st March (3pm - Harpenden Pool) In Memory of Grandpa Harry Cohen
Grandpa Harry meant everything to me. My parents split up when I was three so Grandpa became a father figure. Saturdays were spent watching wresting together on World of Sport, re-enacting Big Daddy v Giant Haystacks in the lounge afterwards then playing darts for three hours. When I had my first snog it was him I proudly called. He then proceeded to tell him the Yiddish words for everything I might get up to next! Larger than life, never wrong (according to him anyway!) and a laugh to rival Sid James.
He spent years regaling us with stories of his war heroics and in particular carrying a camp bed across the dessert. Not sure how that was heroic but we let him go on about it forever. As I got older I got closer to him still and that never changed. He was in great health until one day in December 2002 when he fell over on holiday in Bournemouth. We thought he'd just lost his balance but as it turned out he had a brain tumour. After a short stay in hospital he was admitted to St Francis Hospice (Romford) where the staff were incredible. Not just with their care for him but also their support for the family. He passed away peacefully on the 23rd January 2002, aged 80.
He never got to meet Jade but I've done my best to keep him alive by telling her and Katie the various stories (PG only!) about him. I still talk to him now and will be proud to be swimming in his name during the final leg of my triple challenge.
So that's it, two more training swims and then the big day, well big three days. Hopefully I can raise lots of money for Marie Curie, Cancer Research and the Swimathon Foundation. If you would like to donate anything the place to go is www.justgiving.com/bananaheads.
I'll update this when I've swam my little heart out so bye for now.