Thursday, June 18, 2015

60 Seconds With... Colleen Blair (Extreme Swimmer)

One of the joys of swimming is that anybody at any age can take to the water and begin their swimming journey. But we warned, swimming gets under your skin and can take over your life. Some swimmers take things to the extreme and have a fantastic time doing so.  In our 'Swim Social' series, we’ll catch up with some ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Up first is Colleen Blair, a 37 year old and the first Scottish Swimmer to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and around Manhattan Island.  She was the youngest ever swimmer to cross the English Channel in 1998, taking 13 hours and 55 minutes.

Where have you been swimming recently?

I am just back from Arizona which was four lakes in four days. It’s a swim challenge of 9 miles, 9 and a half miles, 17 miles and a 10k (6.2miles) back to back through the canyons where the dams have been built on the Salt River. In October I swam the Catalina channel from Catalina Island to Los Angles and finished at San Pedro, and that was 20 miles, but that was my third swim to get the Triple Crown. In our sport the English Channel, Manhattan Island where you race around New York and Catalina Island equals the Triple Crown.

What has inspired to you to do extreme swimming?

Years and years ago there used to a category called juvenile which doesn’t exist anymore and my sister was swimming as a junior and I got dragged along to her races. I basically went through juvenile, junior and senior rankings within Scotland and abroad, and then I injured my shoulder and had to get it surgically reconstructed. I couldn’t race anymore but was still able to swim so I moved to long distance where speed doesn’t really matter so much.  I am hoping to try and be the first person swim the Minch from Lochinver to the Isle of Lewis. Nobody has done it before. If I make it, it will be 27 miles point-to- point.  If I miss the peninsula it will be nearer 40 miles. I am doing it in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

What keeps you going mentally?

You’re starting to think of your next challenge while you’re doing a challenge.  Because once that’s done you need something else on the list to do. I am lucky because I have a really good team, my Dad’s been on my boat since I was 8 and I am now 37, so he’s been there from the very beginning, and he knows me probably better then I know myself so he keeps me going when I am in the water.

What’s the next big challenge?

Swimming is so diverse. There’s a new discipline of swimming opening up called ice swimming.  Basically it is racing in water under 5 Celsius.  I am now getting into that and that’s just something new to make open water swimming even more fun. People swim all year round including the winter and there are regulated race.. I competed in Ireland this year in the first Ice Championships which was 3.2 Celsius and it was a 1 kilometre race.  Ice Races are all over the world in places like Estonia and Russia. They cut the pools out of ice with chainsaws and then they race for 50 metres, 450 metres and 1 kilometre.

How do you mentally prepare for ice swimming?!?

It’s so regulated you have to have your ECG done and your blood pressure done before you go in. You literally just get in and the whistle goes and you have to go so then you’re just concentrating on breathing and relaxing and enjoying it. What we do is challenging, but you’ve got to enjoy it or you wouldn’t be able to do it.

Does it take a lot of training?

It’s about acclimatisation, I’ve swam outside all year round this year and it is just about being sensible and keeping going even when it’s really cold, it’s about knowing your body and knowing when to get out.

How great is it to see opening water swimming becoming so popular.

I’ve seen it go from being really popular to hardly anybody doing it to becoming massive now and there’s wild swimmers all over Scotland that meet every weekend and swim outside all year round. It’s great to see so many people taking part in outside swimming and having great fun at the same time.

What would you say to encourage more people to take up open water swimming?

Relax and enjoy it and be safe because a lot of people just go in without realising the dangers or having respect for the water and you do have to have respect for the water and it is just about enjoying it. Go with a group, but don’t go swimming on your own, because then you will have people in your group who will know the water and know where is safe to swim. 

Colleen was interviewed by Anne Kane who caught up at our recent Come & Try Open Water event at the Helix in Falkirk (June 2015).