I have always been a strong swimmer. Actually I'll rephrase that - I always was a strong swimmer, until I was diagnosed with MS.
About a year or so after I was diagnosed, I had a bad relapse which affected my legs......I have been using crutches (and I have a wheelchair when needed) ever since.
I had been having physio and I was talking to my instructor about how I had really enjoyed swimming and that I missed being able to go. She said there was no reason why I couldn't still go and she'd be happy to come with me and see how I was and help with some exercises etc.
I took her up on that offer, but after that I didn't swim for about eight or nine years!
I didn't like it :-( I couldn't just get in and swim as I used to. My legs didn't work properly, plus I couldn't really feel them. It felt really strange, the chlorine on my skin was really uncomfortable. I also had an issue with it being a public pool. We had gone to a disabled session but there were still lots of other people about and because I was unsure of what I was able to do I felt very vulnerable.
It put me off for years :-(
But about two or three years ago, we were invited to use a private swimming pool. They would make sure no-one was around when we were there and they were delighted that it may be of some help to me!
We started going reasonably regularly, trying to go about once a week. It was amazing!
Because no-one else was there I had the freedom to try and see what I could or couldn't do and because Martin was there I felt safe.
We bought a foam noodle which gave me reassurance that I had something to hold onto. We devised a few exercises for me to work on whenever we went.
I was starting to enjoy it again.
I wasn't swimming as such, my legs still don't work in the pool, but I was in the water and just walking in water is using muscles that don't normally get used! ;-) They always say that swimming is a great form of exercise because it is an all over experience but mainly it is weightless exercise so you aren't putting any undue stress on your body.
Our close friends, Joe & Rob, started coming with us, which was good. I started trying out whether there was any way that I could actually swim. With Joe, Rob and Martin's encouragement, I realised that even though my legs don't work, my arms do.
I started being able to swim widths. I couldn't manage lengths and I didn't really have the confidence to try yet.......I was worried that I'd get tired and in trouble so I stuck to widths!
After a while I did eventually try doing a length and low and behold I managed it!
I was really happy...........but I could only manage two or four lengths each time I went. Bear in mind though..........I was only using my arms! ;-)
I had come quite a long way but I was still only doing widths and the odd length here and there.
One day I decided that I needed a goal to work towards.
Joe & I were talking about it and we decided what better than to do a sponsored swim!
It would be something I could work on, we wouldn't set a date, we could just train until we were happy that we could achieve whatever we set ourselves!
Joe had heard of a saying "Walk a mile in our shoes" so we decided to take that as our inspiration.
We worked out that a mile in the pool would be 120 lengths. That would be a bit too ambitious really, so as this was to be a joint fundraiser we decided that we would do half a mile each, so 60 lengths each!
I want to raise money for the MS Society and Joe is doing it for the British Heart Foundation.
Unfortunately, because of health issues with both myself and Martin last year, we didn't go swimming for about six months.
But by September last year we were back in the pool and after a few weeks, I was going twice a week, whenever we could!
We decided that we needed to do this properly if we were going to seriously reach our target so we sorted out a training programme, decided how we were going to do it and training began!
Like I said, there was no time limit, on either how long it took to swim the 60 lengths or when we actually decided to do it. This took the pressure off. We could just work on it as and when we could without worrying how and when we were going to do it!
We devised the way that we wanted to tackle it and set about training.
We decided that we would do it in a kind of relay. Joe would start, she would do 6 lengths and then stop and I would swim 6 lengths.
We did that for a couple of weeks, until we were both happy and then we would add in the next 6 lengths. Joe would swim six lengths, then I would do six lengths, then Joe would go again and once she'd finished I would go again. This was the basis of our training. We had tried to do ten lengths at a time but it was too much to do in one go. Joe suggested that we do it in groups of six because our goal was 60 lengths, therefore we knew we had to do 10 sets of six!
It is a great way to train because we are constantly pushing ourselves but with no pressure! We knew we weren't going to set a date to do it until we knew it would be an achievable goal!
I have become addicted! I love it!
Just being in the pool gives me such a sense of freedom. I don't need my crutches or wheelchair, I can just be free and it feels amazing!
Martin and I go twice a week whenever we can (Joe joins us whenever she can) and I get quite frustrated now if I can't go for any reason!
I feel now that I am really doing something and it feels good. I'm not able to go any more than twice a week because my recovery time is such that I can't manage any more! And I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard work or that I don't suffer for it afterwards.
When I'm in the pool I can do anything but when I get out boy does it hit me! My legs ache and walking can be a big issue. Pain hits me all over, my body will buzz like I've been plugged into electricity and fatigue.....well it's like I've been hit by a truck.......but it's still worth it because there is a reason for it.
Knowing that doesn't take the pain away and it doesn't make my legs work but mentally it makes me feel good! :-)
And now here we are, almost able to do 60 lengths each! Last week we did nine reps each, 54 lengths.......this time last year I would never have believed I'd be able to swim 54 lengths!
We have set the date as the 28th April and that is because it is the start of MS week 2013. As it happens it is the MS Society's 60th anniversary of it's creation. I read somewhere (some time after we had decided that 60 lengths was our goal!) that the society was calling for anyone doing any fundraising to incorporate the number 60........perfect eh?!?!?!
I am incredibly proud of what we are doing and what we have achieved. I couldn't have done it without Joe and Rob and of course my wonderfully supportive husband, Martin! He has been there every step of the way, getting me to the pool at least once a week and being there with me......I literally couldn't do it without all of you. XxXxX
And so now here's the bit where we pass it over to you!
We have two fantastic charities that are very close to mine and Joe's hearts.
If you could manage any small donation both of us and definitely our charities would be so grateful.
Just follow the link below and it will take you to our fundraising page, where 100% of the donations will be going to our two chosen charities.
A note from Joe
My name is Joanna Walling and I am swimming in aid of the British Heart Foundation.
When I was 11 years old, my Dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He was on medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol and yes, his cuddliness meant he was overweight and yes, he had a highly stressful job but nothing prepares you for the unfairness of losing someone so suddenly.
When I was in my mid twenties, I was diagnosed with Familial Hypercholestrolemia. This is an inherited genetic disorder that means that I have very high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol).
This disorder is kept under control by daily statins and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise.
I wanted to promote awareness of this disorder as high cholesterol is not to be always associated with the sedentary, junk food eating chain smoker - in fact their cholesterol is probably lower than mine!
The British Heart Foundation campaigns tirelessly for cholesterol awareness and thanks to leaps and bounds being made with medication and testing, my prognosis is infinitely more positive than it was for my Dad 25 years ago.
So, why a sponsored swim? I am taking the tablets every day and my diet is relatively good but I am rubbish with the exercise! Amelia needed an exercise goal too and so 'Walk a Mile in Our Shoes' was created!
I am so proud of what we have achieved and our patient men have supported us all the way.
We would love you to support our charities if you can.
Thank you :) x