Open water swimming is exhilarating, it makes me feel alive

MAY 2018

Today we’re talking with Heather, the founder of Amanzi Open Water, about the joys of outdoor swimming and the positive impact it can have on your life.

Hi, I’m Heather, I’m married to Leon and have two girls who are 15 and 13 years old. We also have a crazy happy dog, Minnie and a rather large cat, Belle. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. We moved to the UK in 2004, wanting an adventure…we got one and are still living it! Since being in the UK I have started my own business, Amanzi Open Water.

There’s nothing better than open water swimming, with the sun beating down on you and no pool walls.

I’ve always loved swimming. I inherited my love for the water from my dad, who still plays water polo at 70 years old. I had wonderful swimming opportunities when I lived in Westport, Connecticut including being able to swim in the Long Island Sound and a variety of rivers. In 2009 I got into swimming teaching and have not looked back since. When a friend decided to do 50 swims to celebrate her 50th year, I joined her on lots of the swims. This experience spurred me on to qualify as an ASA level 2 open water coach. And in 2016 I started Amanzi Open Water (Amanzi means water in Zulu).

I’m passionate about helping people embrace the open water, helping each swimmer on their own personal journey. Everyone has a story.

Lots of swimmers find the idea of open water appealing but also find the thought totally daunting and sometimes it feels like an unreachable goal. Open water swimming has not always been easy for me and because of this I totally understand and can relate to what a new open water swimmer feels. By listening to each swimmer’s fears, which are very real, I work through the triggers to overcome whatever is holding the swimmer back. Open water swimming is a journey where you grow with physical strength, being able to complete a swim circuit without stopping and mental strength by controlling anxieties and fear if there are any. Seeing how a swimmer grows in confidence in the pool and then once they transition outdoors, watching their progress is an honour for me to experience and to be part of their journey.

Open water swimming is a fast developing sport and I feel so excited to offer the opportunity to children as well as adults. Seeing the youngsters feel invigorated and alive after they’ve been swimming in a river or lake makes me feel proud. Lots of youngsters may have completed all the swim stages and have the talent but don’t want to compete. Open water is another avenue for these children so their amazing swim talents can be used. Last year my daughter did open water swimming as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award. It was a wonderful experience for her.

I feel over the moon when I get an email from a swimmer saying thank you for my help.

I love my open water coaching. It never feels like a chore. Coaching people to swim is so rewarding. I literally jump up and down when a swimmer completes their first whole length without stopping to catch their breath. I even get excited when I have a new Facebook like, as that potentially means there’s another person out there that I can help.

Wild swimming makes me feel alive and happy.

Your skin tingles, your cheekbones ache from smiling and all bad thoughts seep away. The mixture of being with friends, laughing and squealing because it’s cold, the physical exercise and the feeling of being a bit naughty by just hopping into the river keeps you smiling afterwards. The cherry on the top is when my girls join me. What better way to have a laugh! We certainly do have a laugh, especially when I am swinging from a rope swing, this tends to create hysterical laughter…I think I am their last laugh.

And when I’m not swimming or coaching, I love spending time in my garden. I also like to be organised and tidy…tidy house, tidy mind. My husband supports me and lets me just get on with things. He knows I can’t sit still! My friends laugh at me constantly saying isn’t it past my bedtime because I go to bed early at 9.30pm. But I like to get up at 6.00am – I enjoy the mornings, my brain feels alive with new beginnings, how can you not be excited to start the day.

In my younger years, my first open water race was wearing long board shorts because I was too embarrassed to walk to the start line in just my swimming costume.

If only I could go back and give myself some advice, it would be to worry less about what you look like. When I look at photos of myself when I was in my 20s, I can’t believe I had so many hang ups about my body image. Gosh, I looked absolutely amazing then, what was my problem?! I’ve always said if I had my 45 year old mind in a 20 year old body, can you imagine what I would have conquered? I definitely wouldn’t be wearing shorts over my swimming costume!

Starting a business can be scary. It’s challenging and your mind is continuously working.

There have been times where I have just wanted my brain to switch off thinking about what I need to do, but it just can’t. If this happens I normally go for a swim to calm down or see a friend which helps. I used to be afraid of posting on Facebook. The self-doubt and worry about making a mistake was always on my mind. Then I watched a YouTube video with Mel Robbins who talks about the 5-second rule to make things happen before you change your mind. So now when I have a thought to do something or want to introduce myself to someone for example, I count to 5 and do it, even if I am nervous about doing it. I have definitely become a lot braver over the years.

Running your own business is hard work and that’s because you want to do well and it’s a reflection on yourself. But if you’re reading this thinking you’d like to do your own thing, then go for it; no business ever succeeded without action. You have to take the plunge and go for it. If you don’t then in years to come, you’ll ask yourself…why did I wait so long?

When you have your own business you need mentors, people to ride the rollercoaster with.

One of those people for me is Penny Bird, from Penny Bird and Camera, who started her own photography business 3 years ago. What I like about Penny is she shares her knowledge and experiences with me, or anyone for that matter. Even though we have totally different businesses, our journeys of setting up a business from scratch are the same. You ride a rollercoaster together; you celebrate success together and have a cry together when things get tough. We pick each other up and get back on track. Penny recently ran a poll to nominate an inspirational woman. The whole project was inspired by her mother who taught for many years as a dance teacher, but she was more than just a dance teacher, she gave many of her students hope when there wasn’t any around them. The response Penny received was amazing. But I think Penny was the true role model.  It showed how inspirational Penny was in recognising others. Penny cares about people, and I am lucky to have her as a friend and mentor.

If you’d like to try open water swimming, come along to one of our sessions in Harpenden or St Albans.

Pool sessions to learn the skills you need before you go in the open water, are held in Harpenden on a Tuesday morning or in St Albans on a Wednesday evening. I also offer group lake introductions and 1 to 1 sessions.

Some people are concerned about the dangers of open water swimming but you needn’t be. You’ll learn how to swim the distance in the pool first. Once you take to the open water all swims should be done in safe managed lakes. Stanborough lakes offer lifeguards on stand-up paddle boards. Boxend and Denham are also safe venues to swim in.

If you are keen, the things you’ll need are…

  • Swimming costume
  • Swim cap, bright colour (pink, orange, yellow)
  • Swim goggles that don’t leak
  • Towel and warm clothes for afterwards
  • Wetsuit – wetsuits are advisable for open water, to help with buoyancy and the cold. With wetsuits the prices and styles vary tremendously. I’ve used Mountain Warehouse wetsuits and Tesco ones, they’ll do the job while you decide what to buy. Proper triathlon wetsuits are designed to allow for better movement and are less bulky. Wetsuits can also be hired.

Open water swimming is the best natural high

It’s truly exhilarating and the friendships that have been formed from my swimming have been amazing. I’d love to talk more with you about it. You can contact me through Facebook, mobile: 07810350715 or email: heather.schelhase@gmail.com

Thanks so much to Heather for sharing her story and introducing us to the joys of open water swimming. Do let me know if you give it a go!

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