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.’
Read more about endometriosis HERE.