Saturday, 4 March 2017

Inclusive swimming

I read today that the UK's Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) has issued a new swimwear guidance that allows for exceptions to the usual rules for competition swimwear on the grounds of religious belief or pre-existing medical condition. These changes are in response to a review requested by the Muslim Women's Sports Foundation (MWSF), who highlighted growing participation by Muslim women and girls in sport and the need to foster this interest by maximising the possibilities for access. The revised rules allow the use of textile full body suits that do not have the potential to enhance performance and which have been approved by officials in advance. This change to the rules will primarily benefit those women and girls whose religious beliefs mean that they would prefer to cover their body.

The ASA guidance includes these images of the kinds of suits that are included by the new guidance:

The guidance also includes examples of suits that the revised rules will continue to exclude: 


There has been some predictable grumbling on social media about the changed rules potentially serving as a back door to performance enhancing body suits, but this is clearly not the purpose or consequence of this ruling. It's also important to note that this is distinct from recent FINA changes to the rules about wetsuits in competitive open water swimming, which have also caused controversy in the open water / marathon swimming / triathlon communities. Instead, this new guidance is simply a way of enabling more women and girls to compete in swimming, and that has to be a good thing. 

BME communities are notoriously poorly represented in swimming (all kinds, all levels). This is due to a combination of factors including lack of access to affordable swimming lessons and facilities and the lack of perceived 'fit' with the sport (i.e. children being pointed towards other sports, or being told that 'black people can't swim' because of outdated and racist assumptions about bone density). This poor representation is particularly true for women and girls. There is also the legacy of the historical exclusion of non-white people from swimming facilities - for example, during segregation in the US (see Wiltse's 2007 book, Contested Waters, for a frank and disturbing account of this) - which has ongoing generational impacts in terms of facilities, expectations and a paucity of role models. 

So this small change in the swimwear guidance isn't going to solve the problem of the whiteness of swimming, but it is an important beginning, and signals the active valuing of participation and inclusion to those outside of the sport who might like to give it a try. 

And this got me thinking about other branches of the swimming world where strict costume rules apply, including marathon swimming. This is a sensitive and hotly contested area, but it seems to me that marathon swimming is in a position to be among the leaders in the field of amateur endurance sport by actively incorporating amendments of this kind to swimwear rules. Changes like this to the regulations by Channel / marathon swimming governing bodies are relatively costless, since they would not confer a performance advantage on swimmers wearing full body costumes, but would demonstrate an openness to the social diversity that is currently lacking. It's a small measure, but one that I think would speak volumes in welcoming new swimmers to the marathon swimming community. 


Thursday, 12 January 2017

Starting from where you are....

One of the hardest lessons of training is that you have to start from where you are, and not from where you think you should be at any given point in the training cycle. 

In my last post, optimistically entitled "Recovery", I was optimistic about having completed my functional recovery from the ankle injury and having been signed off from physiotherapy. But the reality was that this was just the beginning of a much longer, slower phase of recovery where my injured ankle inched with glacial slowness towards fuller, more reliable pain-free function. And inevitably, from time to time, I became impatient, or perhaps over-optimistic, and pushed too hard, causing it to swell and ache. Sometimes, even just wearing regular shoes to work rather than allowing myself the comfort and support of trainers, meant that evenings had to be spent with my foot up, wrapped in ice. Each setback made me feel old and useless and  I kept returning in my mind to the costly moment of inattention when I fell, wanting to take it back and have it all work out differently. 

But they're not kidding when they say that time heals, albeit with frustrating slowness. And since Christmas, I've enjoyed a step-change in my recovery and can swim, cycle and run without pain for the first time in months. I'm still proceeding cautiously, and am diligently nurturing my physio-acquired, ankle-stabilising skills of balancing on wobbly things, but at last, I feel like it's pretty much fixed and ready to really take on the work of training. Over Christmas, we escaped to the Canary Islands, and although a sustained weather pattern of lively winds made swimming difficult, I was able to taste the beginnings of the return of the comforts of being in the water....a necessary foundation for training for me. 

Since November, I've been doing short, 30 minute swims (with the occasional hour thrown in), mostly with a pull-buoy at first, then more recently on full stroke. I've also been walking on a treadmill and riding a stationary bike, although both at low intensity. So I still have some basic fitness, but nothing like what I am going to need this summer for Geneva 2, and the gap between my current swim fitness and where I'd like to be now in order to get where I want to be is quite daunting. 

But....you have to start from where you are. So I have a training plan, running in the first instance through to mid-April, when I'll be going to the Canary Islands for two weeks of hard open water training (with the goal of 100+km during the trip). The next goal after that is to complete the qualifying swims of 10 hours, followed by 7 hours the next day....probably sometime around mid-June. My weeks are mapped out to incorporate gradually increasing volume, and even though I'm starting from only 4 hours per week at the moment, I have to trust that by starting from where I am rather than where I feel like I should be, I will be able to stay injury free and rediscover my long swim fitness. Happily, too, I'm on research leave now until September, which should mean that I can train with a consistency that usually escapes me during the teaching term. I've also been working over the past few months on improving the quality and quantity of my sleep, and I've tweaked my vegan diet slightly to focus even more on whole foods and to eliminate (almost) all processed food. Both of these efforts have been effective, although I'm also aware that these interventions were as much about making me feel purposeful in the face of my ankle frustrations as they were about improving my well-being (although both have). 

So that's where things stand....with 30 weeks to go, I'm starting from where I am and determined to do everything I can to get where I want to be. Money is being put down for the swim, and there's no going back now.