SWIM: one woman’s journey coping with grief.

When I was young, all my best birthdays were spent in the valley – picnic on the banks and swimming in the rivers with my favourite people. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Lake District in England, where there’s no shortage of green grass, sheep and cows peppering the landscape. Jumping off bridges into deep pools of water on weekends and running through fields as part of our P.E lessons at school, were the norm. 

Over the years as I grew up, career, illness, location all got in the way a bit from me being able to really submerge myself in my wild swimming and the outdoors. When I finally left London and moved to the Peak District, my swimming world opened up to me again. I was invited for an outdoor swim and it was so much fun! I went with a group of friends who did this most mornings before they went to work. They were seeing wonderful sunrises and having these magical experiences together before they had even had a bowl of cereal. I was intrigued. My love for swimming outdoors had been quite a solitary experience up until now (apart from when I was a kid). I was fascinated by this pull to the water these, mainly, women had. I admired their friendship from a distance and wanted to know more about the levels of support they were offering each other in a more conversational-way whilst in the water.

I was particularly struck by how many people were using the swimming in cold or outdoor water as a way to aid or help ‘de-fuzz’ the problems and struggles they were faced with in their day-to-day life. As I talked more to the community of swimmers I found these struggles included grief, long-term illness, depression, anxiety, stress, IVF treatment, post-natal depression, menopause…the list goes on. What they all had in common was that this swimming in open water, the freedom in it, the healing power, the coming together in shared experience, was helping a lot more than anything else in their lives. 

I wanted to explore these stories and create something that would follow a journey and highlight this ever-growing number of people coming back to nature. When I talked in depth with people I came across stories of heartbreak, determination and healing: a father’s loss of his child takes him to the water everyday whereby he swims the length and back of a reservoir- head in, no stopping, letting the water guide his path. A woman’s loss of her young niece and nephew and her ability to be able to cope with it all and support her loved ones, found in the renewing power of outdoor swimming and community in the water. 

So I set about combining my two passions – the outdoors and theatre; pulling together a team to help me devise a show, SWIM, which would incorporate the gift of storytelling in live art and intrigue the outdoor world to experience theatre in a way that felt familiar to them because of the nature of the topic.

I have already been on a year’s journey with SWIM. From the first pitch to the theatre, to finding the team to make it with, to working with Adventure film Festivals, Outdoor swimming communities, running workshops with outdoor swimming enthusiasts and those who use the outdoors to aid them in their bereavement. I have met incredible people, inspiring people, passionate people, kind people, talented people, generous people. It has been so encouraging. I have LEARNT SO MUCH! 

I am SO excited to have been given the opportunity to take my show to the Pleasance in Edinburgh this August. As part of my initial interview for the award, I told the Pleasance that I wanted SWIM to not only be an exciting new piece of theatre, but by being present at the Fringe, represent the bigger picture of what I believe all artists who create such things – live art and entertainment deserve – well-being. Whilst we are up at the Fringe for the month, I will be encouraging people to get outdoors, take a swim in the sea, look after your mind and your body whilst pushing at an incredibly demanding feat to promote your art. There will be a weekly swim happening at Portobello Beach for all those who are working at the Fringe.

However…

The only way that we can take SWIM to Edinburgh and get the message of the show out there is by raising the money to take us there. I have worked long hours (!) to ensure that I raise the funds in order to take SWIM to the masses and cover the costs in order to do this. Your support is integral to this being achieved. Overcoming adversity

13 years after being diagnosed with an illness which brought my career to a standstill and stopped me being able to to be outdoors as much, here I am wanting to take my second piece of theatre I’ve created and happens to be all about overcoming struggles and getting outside more! I have my health, fitness and verve for theatre back – help me do my best for this project.

Support SWIM

With my local friends now watching the sunrise and talking life
With my local friends now watching the sunrise and talking life


Published by Hetty Key

If I'm outside I'm happy! Fell running, mountain biking, climbing or skiing I just love getting out and pushing myself as hard as I can. As a women in adventure, I have found female role models really inspiring and motivating. There are definite moments I have really doubted myself and considered packing something in or giving up, but it's at these points looking to someone I can relate to, be that a friend or pro, really helps. Though this project I would love to find more of this type of relateable inspiration as well as being part of the wider movement to help remove any barriers to participation. Visit my site Mud, Chalk & Gears