Jonathan Rhoades is from Dorset. He is missing his left leg but despite this he has just completed 35km of open water swimming to raise money for Legs4Africa.
We think he is an absolute hero and once you’ve read this we know you will too…
18/11/2018 – ‘The Last Swim’
It has been more than a year since I wrote to you all about my swims for Legs4Africa and I am glad to say it is over!
For those of you with a memory as bad as mine, this all started when my band had to cancel a gig for Legs4Africa. I had just started swimming after my accident and since the band was a little ‘unpredictable’ at the time I very naively sat in the pub and picked 3 open water swims to raise money instead. As it turned out, I should have done a bit more research before committing myself! The plan was to do a 6km, 10km and then a 19km (around 11 miles) open water swim. I was planning to complete this all last year in a heroic but relaxed manner.
As some of you may remember, I finished the 6km swim in the beautiful Bantham estuary in June last year. This went amazingly well and apart from having to exit the water like a dog with an itchy bottom, because they had lost my crutches all was good.
Then came the 10km swim in the beginning of September. I had trained all year for this but made the mistake of a rather hot holiday in Portugal before hand. I had seemingly lost all my cold-water acclimatisation and was not fit enough to swim hard to keep warm over the distance. Although it was a wild adventure with wonderful people on the river Dart, I was absolutely frozen and knackered afterwards.
In all honesty this rather freaked me out. At this point I had been swimming for 9 months regularly and had been slowly educating myself via google. I had learnt:
- 10km is the swimming marathon distance for good reasons.
- You don’t find training plans above this distance until you start looking at the channel swims or specialist nutter events.
- Google informed me that the Windermere swim is iconic because it is the qualification swim for the channel. It is long and cold
- My missing leg was not the problem on the Dart. It was the combination of cold and my ‘missing’ back muscles (which were transplanted by my awesome surgeon – no complaints here) to make me a new stump so I could keep my knee. The left side of my back is much weaker than my right.
Anyway blah, blah, blah……. It was clear that since Lake Windermere is nearly twice distance and far colder than the Dart, there was no way I was going to manage it in 2017. So long story short I found a fantastic trainer (Greenlight PT) who very kindly gave me a training/ feeding schedule (and a swimming lesson to balance up my stroke) and so for the past 12 months I have pretty much only worked and swam, which is why most of you probably thought I had quietly given up! I have been swimming 4 to 5 times a week (1.5 hours to 3 hours swims) in the pool and swims in the Sea and at my local lake at the weekends. It got to the ridiculous stage in September when I was invited to swim to the Isle of Wight from the mainland (pretty freaky with all the tankers around) but had to go to the pool for 2 hours after as I had not done enough swimming that day.
And so the big news is that I made it! But it was absolutely horrific. You have all had your pound of Charity flesh! It took me just over 7 hours …….
For those of you who have not visited Lake Windermere it is beautiful and we were blessed with a still misty morning. There was definitely a different feel to the start line and rather than a big group of swimmers setting off over a timing mat, this was a much more accurate affair as we were set off in 2 minute intervals. Unlike the Dart everyone looked calm and collected rather than fearful or excited. It dawned on me that these really were all nutters…….
My aim was to finish rather than invent any random time goal, so for the first 10km I went steadily but that meant I got cold. Luckily as part of the swim you have to stop at the half way mark to hand over a timing band. It is at this point I should introduce Captain Jack Sparrow who was my support kayaker. We had never met before but he was amazing. He could see me shivering whilst swimming and so at this point he got me out, wrapped me up in his previously dry clothes and fed me tea. 15 minutes later I had stopped shivering and just before I got comfortable he was kind enough to force me back in the water!
For the second half of the swim I am not entirely sure what happened. The odd thing about open water swimming is you often can’t see anything and so you lose track of time. At the beginning of a long swim you get glances of the sky/ shore as you take a breath, but pretty soon your goggles fog up and then you are in a dark green room.
It is a beautiful ‘medative’ state on a good day and a cold green lonely room on others……. After the ‘reheating’ stop we decided I should swim faster to keep out the cold. This was awesome. I was passing people, I felt good and I thought it was in the bag…… Oh how wrong I was. I still don’t know quite when or how it happened but I got very cold, very quickly. Soon I was shaking uncontrollably and then I started vomiting. (I apologise to anyone who was swimming behind me). And so, the last hours were a very unpleasant shivering, vomiting experience. To be honest it was only the thought that I would have to do it again (if I gave up) that kept me going. That and Jacks endless supply of nautical themed jokes
The statistics in the cold light of day are not that impressive. I think I was about 110th out of 160 swimmers (around 20 of which didn’t finish) and whilst I had a leaky wetsuit some of the swimmers were in skins which is unbelievable. I did however finish and I have fore filled my promise to you all. I wish I had some better photographs of me finishing to attach, but Pernilla was too busy muttering about how I was going to become another ‘middle aged statistic’ and Molly was too busy laughing at the state of me…. I have one embarrassing photo of being bundled up, wrapped in a space blanket, and attired with Captain Jacks fantastic hat…
Whilst in all honesty I would never want to do this swim again, I don’t want to put anybody off open water swimming. It is fantastic and I love it. It makes you happy and I have made a huge number of friends through these swims. The open water swimming community is amazing if not eccentric. I have still not lost my fear of open water (imaginary sharks or Scottish bastard stinging jelly fish) but starting the day with a 6:00 am swim at Ellingham lakes at sunrise is fantastic. If you throw in a seal or two as happened in Scotland it just gets better! I have included a few pictures from this year to try and entice you to the water’s edge. It has been a lot of fun.
And so, for the important stuff!
Just as a quick reminder Legs4Africa are awesome. They collect used prosthetics in the UK which are deemed to be industrial waste. They have a group of unpaid volunteers who break these down into parts and then they ship them to Africa where they give people a chance for a new life.
You have raised an amazing £6000 so far which is enough to provide 300 legs to people who would otherwise be crutch or wheel chair bound. I can promise you this will mean a new life for 300 people. I even find it hard to relate to what this means as I have the amazing NHS to support me, but this gives 300 people the opportunity to be able to work, play and fundamentally alter the way the world will treat them.
I cannot thank you all enough and if those of you with facebook would be kind enough to say thank you to all those people who have donated (that I don’t know) I would be very grateful. For my darling friends who said they wanted to donate after the swim just in case I didn’t make it (and to those who have only recently discovered what I have been doing after work for the last 12 months). The just giving link is below:
Thank you all again and I hope to see you all soon.