Friday, December 9, 2016

How Swimming Gave Me a New Lease of Life - Elspeth Duncan

At swimming events you always meet some inspirational people but Elspeth Duncan’s story particularly captured my imagination. Elspeth, who turned 65 this year, has had two hip replacement operations, having been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and made recoveries from two different breast cancers in 1998 and 2006. Elspeth shared her story…

“When I was first diagnosed with cancer I made some drastic changes to my life. I became more careful about what I was eating and started to exercise more, particularly when I became aware of the need for a hip replacement as I knew that if I was fitter I would recover much more quickly from the surgery.” 

Why did you choose swimming?

“My first hip surgery unfortunately caused nerve damage and I had to wear a knee-brace so I was quite disabled for several months. I chose swimming to give myself the greatest chance of a speedy recovery because it is a fantastic way to exercise without straining my joints.

After the operation I used to go to the pool on crutches. The Orthopaedics Team advised not to do breaststroke kick so I devised a hybrid stroke until my muscles healed. Swimming strengthens the muscles around the joints which protects the prosthesis and after swim-coaching, I can now do breast, freestyle, tumble-turns, diving and even butterfly!

I found the Scottish Swimming Skills and Drills session at Tollcross Swimming Pool a really valuable class.  Our coach Mark Wilmott, was fantastic in giving us advice and tips on our technique.  There are both Beginners and Intermediate Sessions lasting 60 - 90 minutes and whilst I’ve always enjoyed swimming it was a revelation to get some real coaching.”

How did you get into open water swimming?

“I used to do kayaking at Strathclyde Park and first became aware of outdoor swimming when the Great Scottish Swim was advertised at the Park. I thought , ‘I fancy having a go at that’ and set about training by doing half mile sessions in Tollcross International Swimming Centre without touching the ends of the pool. My first outdoor ½ mile swim was only 8 months after my first hip surgery in 2011.”

How was the Great Scottish Swim?

“Anticipating my first outdoor swim was pretty scary….. I did think at one point ‘I can’t do this’ but I persevered. The first section was the most difficult – acclimatising to the cold water, getting the breathing right and settling into a rhythm. Now, having completing three separate 1 mile swims, it feels like an amazing achievement and my swim-confidence has grown greatly.”

How has swimming helped you?

“I have no doubt that swimming helped me recover quickly from surgery but swimming to keep fit has also enabled me to continue running my sign making business. My D Signs Team in Stirling produces all kinds of signage and vehicle graphics for local companies but I still climb scaffolding to carry out traditional signwriting & gilding.”

Would you recommend swimming to others?

“I’ve always enjoyed swimming and would recommend swimming to anyone as a great way of keeping fit without placing strain on the joints.”

The Adults Swim Social programme, run by Scottish Swimming, offers coached sessions all over Scotland for all levels from beginners to advanced. If you fancy an open water swim in beautiful scenery the open water swimming season starts in May with a pool session on technique at the University of Stirling on 13th May followed by a ‘Come and Try’ open water session at The Helix in Falkirk and a challenge event on 13th August at Loch Venachar. We also have Masters clubs for swimmers who train 3 times a week or more, looking for a social club with coached swimming sessions.

For more information and to register your interest check the events calendar under

See you in the pool!

Elspeth was interviewed by Helen Plank (Marketing Manager, Scottish Swimming)