Wild water swimmer raises funds for Diabetes UK

A fundraiser for Diabetes UK has continued his love for open-water swimming during lockdown to raise funds for the charity. 57-year old Mark Harvey, who lives outside Chepstow, swims in Wales and the South West in lakes, rivers, seas, wherever and whenever he can.  

This is the second time Harvey has embarked on Diabetes UK’s Swim22 event (extended until the end of October) and not even the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown have managed to dampen his enthusiasm. Harvey said that he enjoys a challenge and, to make things a little more testing, for this year’s event he decided to swim the full distance outdoors under the clothing rules of the International Ice Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming Association. This means he was only allowed to wear a standard swimsuit (not a wet suit), a single swim cap, goggles, and earplugs. Outdoor water temperatures at the start of the challenge in February are between 3 and 5°, and February-April are the coldest months for swimming outdoors. He explains, “Being outside, in the wild, in freezing cold water, with the world and nature around you, it’s just fantastic. You can swim from dawn to dark seven days a week. There isn’t that dreadful smell of chlorine, or hundreds of other swimmers, or the horrible heat of a leisure centre. I could wax lyrical forever, but I can sum it up in just a line: it puts a smile on your face that lasts the whole day.”  

The first obstacle he faced was the storms and floods early in the year. “The cold is tough, but the hardest struggle was finding water to swim in! My usual rivers for swims are the Wye, Usk, and the Monnow, but these were in a dreadful state, not safe to swim in and were a horrible manky colour.” Until the rivers improved, he took to the sea and the lakes in the Brecon Beacons to begin this year’s challenge. The coronavirus outbreak put paid to all of his plans, particularly as accessing open water of any type was impossible because of the ban on unnecessary travel. Harvey adds, “My last open water swim before lockdown was in the River Wye in late-March. I couldn’t swim properly again until travel restrictions were lifted in late June in England which allowed me to swim in the Marine Lake in Clevedon and the sea off Weston-Super-Mare. As soon as I was able to access water, I started to swim every day and soon started clocking up the miles. I hit double distance in late June. I was so happy when Wales lifted the travel ban on 6 July. In fact, my wife and I were so excited, we went for a sunrise swim in the Brecons to celebrate on the very day the restrictions were lifted.”  

 Mark Harvey’s tips for open water swimming:  

  • never swim alone
  • take time to acclimatise and build resilience to the cold water over months 
  • if you’re swimming where there are sailing craft – even canoes – wear a bright colour swim hat and use a tow float.  

Find out more about Swim22 HERE.

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