Any day now, Emma Watson (the department operations manager at Imperial College, London, not the film star) could get the call for her sponsored English Channel relay swim. I first spotted Emma in her swimsuit on my Instagram feed and when we meet she tells me that cycling to work one morning a ‘random explosion of ideas’ brought a Victoria Wood sketch to mind. Diagnosed with endometriosis in 2003, after many years of agonizing pain, Emma has been on a mission ever since to raise awareness of a condition that affects 176 million women worldwide. And once at work she vowed to swim the Channel and to raise money for Endometriosis UK by appearing in public in her swimsuit.

From supermarkets to train stations, St Paul’s Cathedral, to Hampton Court, the 40-year-old swimmer has spent the last few weeks getting her kit off for a good cause. ‘I never thought it would last so long’, she says of the online project started in August after the team’s Channel swim was cancelled due to bad weather, ‘But when you’ve stripped once, you kind of get used to it and it’s clear that something’s happening when you’ve got a swimming cap and goggles on. If people stop me, I talk about the project – basically I’ve been discussing my uterus for the last month.’ As well as endometriosis, the project is also intended to flag up body image issues; I am shocked when Emma tells me of the body-shaming abuse she has received in the past and also to discover that half a million women have given up swimming over the past decade over fears about how they look in the pool.

 

The three-person relay team – including fellow wild swimmers Mandy Worsley and Pip Barry – has been in training all year long. Apart from lasting the distance, the numerous Channel challenges they face, include: strong currents, jellyfish, ferries, possible seasickness (‘The boat is going at swimmer speed and so you can get seasick.’), hypothermia and possible salt ingestion (‘your throat, mouth and lips swell up’). Having missed their original July slot the team is waiting to be allotted another and could get the call up today, if the weather clears. ‘I’m excited,’ continues Emma, ‘ but the mental challenge of not knowing when we’re going to go is tough and the irony is that just like a pregnancy bag, I’ve got a ‘Channel Bag’ with my kit in by the door.’

Sponsor Emma HERE and follow her story on Instagram @moywatson. Photographs are by Laura Ward.

 

Read more about endometriosis HERE.

15 thoughts on “Swimming the English Channel for charity

  1. Kudos to Emma and her team. I used to avoid any water related activities because my body wasn’t perfect. At 72 I have realized that people may look once at my shape, but probably won’t look again, so who cares???? I now go to water aerobics twice a week and we put a wonderful pool in our backyard. I couldn’t be happier. And what an opportunity for stylish cover-ups!

  2. As an endometriosis sufferer, I think what she’s doing is brilliant – I know I wouldn’t be so brave, and that makes me think twice about my own hangups. One thing I would be more worried about (for her, for myself), walking around town without shoes. Never understood the barefoot running thing, and no flip flops makes me wonder just what awful trash she’s encountered. Nevertheless, I again reiterate that she is a newfound hero, and I am so pleased you introduced us to her.

  3. Thanks for bringing Emma and her campaign to our attention. I shall certainly contribute. I’m a swimmer but I would not walk around in my bathers without a coverup or sarong it must be said. I admire her bravery to confront a range of issues. Recently I read a review of a book by a wild water swimmer who embarked on an ambitious swimming programme to tackle some personal problems. And it worked.
    On the topic of books Alyson I have just been handed Know your Style purchased on Amazon by my long time partner as a gift. I love the look of the illustrations. Elegant graphic design in super colour schemes. Well done. I also like the size and shape of the book. Sitting now in the fading sunlight of an Indian summer Autumn day I can now read it. I do hope to meet you somewhere to get it signed. Any idea of dates places you will be as part of book promotion later in the autumn ? Sorry to miss Blenheim in all likelihood. With best wishes.

  4. I have sat in my patio garden reading your new book since last writing. I do love the tone and the illustrations. Have just read the chapter Do Try this at Home. Opposite it on page eleven is a picture of exactly what I put together as an outfit last weekend. A chartreuse slightly bell shaped coat Massimo Dutti on sale, navy cropped linen trousers Jaeger old ones, grey suede trainers with fluorescent yellow laces, old Ecco ones with matching socks. A multicoloured silk scarf from a museum shop, new toy, draped just as in picture. Same bobbed hair but now with greying roots and final touch bronze cross body bag, sale purchase. High and low mix which looked and felt good and of the moment for sortie to London Design week venues. And yes I did cover my bed with clothes the previous day to experiment with colour combinations, proportion of the various items until it looked right. I reviewed the choices the next morning when I got dressed. As you write Alyson it is worth taking the time to do this especially before an event rather than trying to make an outfit from things on hangers. As the season changes I buy magazines and look online at new styles but mostly colour combinations then I lay my clothes on bed and see what seems to work. This is called Shopping the Closet in US and a very good way to demonstrate that one has plenty to wear already at hand.

  5. As a lifelong swimmer (I learnt at the age of 3) and have been swimming regularly for the last 20 years or so, its my favourite form of exercise. I haven’t a perfect body , whatever that may be, just a fairly normal one for my age (71) and anyway, once in the water no one cares, or can see you very well. If you’re looking at other swimmers, you’re not concentrating on your own action. Well done to Emma for raising awareness of endometriosis, which I also suffered from when younger. I wish her and her companion swimmers good luck when they get to do their swim.

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