Pauline Latchem: Why I’m swimming in the pond on Hampstead Heath to raise money for Deaf cancer counselling

Posted on March 9, 2015

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I was a skinny child, even more so after a childhood dose of meningitis that left me completely deaf, seriously weakened and messed up my balance completely.

I was hopeless at sport and always the last to be picked for team games, and standing there watching the faces of the team captains signaling to each other “you have her” … “no – you’re welcome”….. was a weekly horror. I smile at the memory now, but it was excruciating to be that small girl at those times.

I have long come to terms with the thought that I am never going to run a marathon or swim the channel. Jumping out of planes doesn’t appeal.

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But I love physical activity – and my thing is stuff I can do solo or in a group without any sense of competiveness, stuff that makes me feel stretched and alive and where possible, in touch with nature.

Yoga and Pilates, gardening, rambling on hills and beaches, cycling, and wild swimming in beautiful places – taking my chances for a skinny dip where I can.

I was 16 before I learned to swim and have had a couple of near drowning experiences, which both made me determined to make friends with water and generated a healthy respect for this powerful element none of us can live without.

My swimming style leaves a lot to be desired, but (temperature withstanding) I can float forever. Swimming pools don’t really do it for me – too crowded, usually reeking with chlorine, functional and way too tame.

River and lake swimming is a revelation – the water so silky against ones skin, and a small but real element of fear – what lies beneath? Just being in the water feels so liberating and it’s a great way to clear your mind.

Autumn swim

I’ve been visiting the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath for the last five summers or so, but had never tried winter swimming, even though I knew there was a group of hardy regulars – many in their 70’s and 80’s.

My first winter swim was at Branksome Chine three years ago – dared by my late and lovely mother-in-law on a stunningly beautiful February Sunday morning, I ran into the sea in pants and vest, and toweled off afterwards with my shirt.

It was so cold that within a few minutes I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes and dared not swim far for fear of not being able to get back to shore. But oh my goodness – how alive my body felt as I walked back up the beach in the winter sunshine.

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I swam again off the Gower the following November, but it was only last year, swimming on my 59th birthday at Kenwood Ladies pond that I determined to swim throughout the year, right through the winter months, no matter how cold.

In the end, it became my own contribution to the bucket challenge that everybody seemed to be doing last summer, but I had never felt able to join in. I just couldn’t see the point of throwing away a precious resource in order to raise awareness of the shortage of that same element.

So I started swimming regularly during the year, gradually acclimatizing. During this time my good friend Yasmin mentioned that SignHealth would be taking over administration & management of a memorial fund she had set up in memory of her partner Ben Steiner and his uncle Mika Brojer in order to provide cancer counselling to Deaf people.

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I suddenly thought that I might actually turn my swimming to good use both to promote this excellent cause and raise some precious funds.

Posting pictures and updates on Facebook and on my Just Giving page helped me reach my original target in less than six weeks, so I doubled it. I have so far raised £1200 but would like to raise as much money as possible before the winter is officially through and we move into spring.

https://www.justgiving.com/Pauline-Latchem/

Already the air and water are warming up…. I’ll still be swimming, but hey – anyone can swim when the weather is fine and the air balmy.

Swimming in cold water is challenging and there is a real risk of hypothermia – I stubbornly chose not to use my neoprene booties till I absolutely needed them – so I have only just lately discovered what an amazing difference they make. I may be discarding them again soon as the temperature rises above 3.5°, tra-la-la…….

I have swum in sunshine and rain, on glorious ‘come and catch me’ mornings, and on days so heavy and dark and dull it has taken all my willpower to drag myself out of bed, let alone take myself to the pond – a 25 minute drive away.

Yet this is the first winter I can recall in a long time that I haven’t been struck by the dreaded winter blues. Maybe it’s the location, or getting up and being out in the air rather than huddling away indoors – who knows?

I have watched hazy sunrises, swum in mist and magic, broken off ice, viewed raindrops as they hit the water and throw up perfect little coronets and looming rings on the still mirror surface.

I’ve paddled alongside ducks, been overtaken by a coot, watched a juvenile black headed gull maturing and got close enough to a cormorant to be dazzled by the intricate detail on its feathers.

I intend to continue swimming as long as I am able and I hope you will feel inspired by my story to try outdoor swimming yourself and to stretch it outside of the summer months if you can.

And I hope – having read this far – you will donate.

https://www.justgiving.com/Pauline-Latchem/

All funds raised go into the Mika Brojer / Ben Steiner Memorial Fund which is administered by SignHealth and which offers free counselling sessions to Deaf BSL users living with or affected by cancer. 

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to SignHealth. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity. And you can remain anonymous if you wish, and even hide the amount you wish to donate. And if you are a UK tax payer, you can increase the value of your donation by ticking the Gift Aid box.

If you prefer to donate the old fashioned way by writing a cheque, please make it out to SignHealth and enclose a little note to say it is in support of Pauline’s fundraising swims for the MBBS fund. Post it to Caroline Player at SignHealth, 5 Baring Road, Beaconsfield,Bucks HP9 2NB then spend the rest of your day basking in the sunshine of your generous heart.

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