Thursday, October 1, 2015

Swim Social: Interview with Gary McGrow (swimmer of the Great Scottish Swim)

"It is great there are so many organised events – doing it yourself is really tricky and you have to be careful about going into a loch yourself because it’s cold and deep"

Over two and a half thousand people took part in the Great Scottish Swim at Loch Lomond this year, with lots of them swimming alongside Commonwealth gold medallist Ross Murdoch and Commonwealth silver medallist Robbie Renwick in the national one mile open water championship race.

Among the swimmers was 45 year old Gary McGrow, who was looking to repeat a distance swim he last undertook 37 years ago.  Back then he was an eight year old kid who swam with Kirkcaldy Amateur Swimming Club and when his primary class undertook a block of lessons, Gary was already a proficient swimmer. 

“My parents were very much of the opinion that swimming was a skill that could save my life someday so they encouraged me to join the local club.  When my school class took lessons, the coach really didn’t know what to do with me so I would swim lengths on my own while he helped the kids new to swimming.  On the last day he pointed to me and asked if I wanted to try a mile and so I had to swim around the edge of the pool without touching the side or the bottom. I’ve still got a badge for it somewhere in the attic.” 

Gary continued with swimming until he was thirteen, when school pressures meant he felt he had to choose between swimming and football , saying, “all my friends were playing football and I was on three teams and something had to give and unfortunately it was competitive swimming.  When I was nineteen I had a bad knee injury and I used swimming as a way of helping me stay fit when I was rehabilitating.  I kept going with swimming as part of my fitness routine and now that I’m 45, I’ve come full circle and swimming is really starting to appeal again”.

In April Gary decided to enter the Great Scottish Swim and started to train in the 25m pool at the Peak in Stirling where he now lives, before moving on to the 50m pool at the National Swimming Academy at Stirling University.  He missed the “come and try event” at the Helix in Falkirk recently, meaning his first real experience in the open water was at the Loch Lomond event.

Gary says, “With hindsight I would have gone to a couple of outdoor training sessions first because the biggest barrier I found on the day was a fear of the unknown.  The water is dark and when you look down you can’t see more than a couple of feet.  I was also alternating between breaststroke and frontcrawl because I really wasn’t sure how much energy I was going to use swimming the mile and didn’t want to have to give up through exhaustion.  By about 300m I was getting warmer and started to enjoy the swim but then my goggles started leaking and I had to tread water to fix them.  That put me quite far behind the pack, which was annoying because I was using everybody’s bright pink head-caps to help me work out what direction to swim.  When we got to the half way buoy lots of people were swimming in big loops, but I remembered the briefing and swam very close to it before turning and that helped me catch up.  I was fairly confident by this point and started to swim faster. I crossed the line after 51 minutes, which gives me a time to beat for next year.”

Gary says he’s impressed by the number of opportunities that exist to try outdoor swimming. “I would encourage anybody to give it a go, but try to get to one of the Scottish Swimming training sessions because you’ll learn a lot more from that than simply swimming in a pool.  It is great there are so many organised events – doing it yourself is really tricky and you have to be careful about going into a loch yourself because it’s cold and deep and you don’t know where the currents are. You have to have people around you who can save you if you get into trouble.  I’ve definitely got the bug for it and know I can improve on my time – and I’m already looking for my next open water challenge to give it a go.”

Gary was swimming in the Great Swim, Europe’s biggest open water swimming series, which gives over 20,000 people the opportunity to swim in lochs, lakes and urban docks across the UK.  The one mile open water race was the first of what will hopefully become an annual event in partnership with Scottish Swimming.   

To find out more about our Come & Try Open Water Swimming events in 2016 (and save the dates) - please click here