Mother who went wild for the open water swims for charity

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Jacqui Hargrave took up open water swimming after injury forced her to stop running. Now she has written a book on the subject. Catherine Scott reports.

Having five pins in your feet might be enough to put people off exercise. Not Jacqui Hargrave.

Just a few months after the painful surgery the mum of two from Knaresbrough was swimming the length of Lake Windermere – covering 10.5 miles in six hours just stopping to tread water to get food from a support boat – for charity.

“I like a challenge,” says the 46-year-old. “And I’d taken up open water swimming a couple of years before and I thought it would give me something to focus on.”

Her journey from foot surgery to swimming Lake Windermere now forms the basis for Jacqui’s book Open Water Woman Swims Windermere, inspired by her blog.

“It was my son Jake who suggested I started a blog while I was convalescing from my foot operation,” explains Jacqui. “I wasn’t able to walk for seven weeks and then I had the pins removed and had to wait another six weeks for the bones to recovery before I could swim again. Jake said I had to do something or I was just going to sit there and get fat. He is studying media and helped me start a blog.

“I wrote a couple of posts and people seemed to like it and then it just went from there.”

Open Water Woman now has 200,000 followers, is an ebook and soon to be released in paperback.

“It has really taken me by surprise,” says Jacqui.

It is also down to Jake that Jacqui took on the fund-raising open water challenge in the first place. He has also since joined her on some of her swims

“I had always been a keen runner, doing half marathons and 10ks. But when I was 39 my hip just gave way and I wasn’t able to run anymore.

“It is very hard when the sport you love is taken away from you and so I had to find something else. A friend suggested swimming. The only experience I had of swimming was at school or on holiday. But it was Jake that really inspired me.”

When Jake was 15 he started to lose his hair, a condition he has suffered with ever since.

“He was amazing about it and one day we were watching Stand Up to Cancer on television and there was a little boy who was undergoing cancer treatment and had lost all his hair.

“Jake said: ‘See mum mine’s not that bad, is it?’ I realised at that moment what a brave and resilient young man he was.”

Jacqui and a friend had been looking for a challenge and she asked Jake if she should do something for charity.

“He said yes and he would like it to be for a children’s cancer charity. And so my swimming buddy and I decided to take on the Great North Swim.”

They started training in a pool during the winter, and Jacqui asked for a wetsuit for Christmas.

“As the weather warmed up the reality of what we had done began to sink in. We would be swimming not in the nice warm clear pool, but in a lake that was home to various aquatic livestock.”

Jacqui and her friend Andrea, known as Shark, enrolled on an open water swimming course near Doncaster. Swim Your Swim is based in a flooded quarry in Hatfield.

“Once I got over the shock of the cold and my initial fear I got the bug.” Since her initial one-mile open water swim which raise £2,200 for the Teenage Cancer Trust, Jacqui has embarked on a number of open water challenges, including Windermere last year rasing money for Candleighters, Martin House and Save Babies UK.

Now she wants to spread the word to other people about the benefits and enjoyment of open water swimming.

“It is such an amazing achievement when you have completed a swim and there is an entire community surrounding it. I have met some amazing people and I really think more people should take it up. “But you do need to take precautions. There’s now way we would just jump into a lake without knowing anything about it.

“We only do organised swims where there are support boats and lots of information.”

Despite her thorough preparation Jacqui knows only too well the potential dangers of open water swimming.

“I did something called the Ice Mile which is an open water swim in the winter when the water is no more than 5 degree centigrade. I’d been on a course about the dangers of swimming in water that cold, in particular hypothermia which can set in very quickly.

“Because I knew what to look out for, while I was doing the swim I realised that I was starting to get signs of hypothermia. The problem is that it can affect your brain which makes you think you are OK when you aren’t. Luckily I realised things weren’t right and the people in the support boat got me out, warmed me up and got me a hot water bottle.

“I wrote about it in my blog and someone got in contact with me and said they had read it and it had helped them spot the signs of hypothermia in a friend which could have saved their live. It really made me feel that writing the blog and book were worthwhile.”

Jacqui, who used to work in learning support at King James School, Knaresbrough, trains in the pool five times a week swimming an average of 12 miles a week.

“Come May when the weather improves we train outside twice and week and then supplement that with pool swims.”

And she is working on some other book ideas.

“I would like to write about some of the people who take up open water swimming but I am also looking at writing about middle age.”