Go-vember by Matthew Davenport
10th January 2019
No-vember is very definitely the time of year when most people start to say ‘No’ a lot more than they do at any other time of year.
“No, it can’t be that time of year already”
“No, it’s too early to put up the Christmas tree”
“No, that water is far too cold to be swimming in. Just no!”
However, for committed winter swimming folk, it is much more like ‘Go-vember’ when the Winter Swimming World Cup series start and the competitions start filling up the calendar. So it was that I found myself in Latvia is a small city called Jelgava, sharing the water with people that a year ago I had only read about and dreamt of meeting, let alone entering the water with. World record holders for the ice mile, the fastest crossing of the English Channel, the fastest crossing from Estonia to Tallinn, relay swimmers across the Bering Straits and so on, all gathered from across the globe, men, women and even children, getting in the water and waiting for the ‘Go’.
Back in the UK, one cold and foggy morning a couple of weeks after I got back from Latvia, the event was very different, but the water temperature was about the same. This time I was at a ‘qualifying swim’ event in Hatfield to complete a set distance for an attempt later in the season to complete an ice mile. The company I was keeping was not as accomplished as many of the international athletes in Latvia, but they had one thing in common at least, they had the drive, the determination to get into the water and give it their best. They each had their personal ‘Go’
Two years ago I was still very much in the ‘No-vember’ frame of mind. If you’d have asked me would I ever contemplate doing an ice mile, the answer would have been a straight forward ‘No’. If you had asked me if I ever imagined competing at international level with some of the world’s swimming greats, I would have said ‘No’. At that time I had never competed at swimming in my adult life and I had never swam more than a few hundred metres in very cold water. What changed is that I was surrounded by people that encouraged me to have a ‘Go’.
I’d met a group of outdoor swimmers called #ChesterFrosties, who are an informal group rather than an organisation, and the more time I spent with them the more they encouraged me. Admittedly the first time I did give it a ‘go’ I did very well and came third in my age group race. The next time I gave it a go, I came second. The feeling of standing on the podium was amazing, the photos capturing my excitement were less amazing. Some of the people who I had got into the water with at the start of those races, decided ‘no’ by the end of them. But it was chatting with those same people after the event who encouraged me – they saw I had what it took to take the cold and swim hard. I listened to them, learnt from them and I lived it through. The same determination it takes to get into very cold water in the first place, flowed into a determination to get better and faster in the water so that I would not be in the water for a moment longer than I had to be after I heard the sound ‘Go’.
At the swim in Hatfield, given there were safety boats monitoring the swimmers closely and lots of shore watch, the organisers said that tow-floats were optional. Normally I would not swim without a tow-float, but I felt re-assured by the safety provisions. Instead I lent my tow-float to a friend who was also swimming but wanted to feel safe that they wouldn’t have to rely on safety crew if things went a little wobbly. Sure enough, after a couple of hundred metres in the cold water, my friend had a little wobble, she held onto the tow-float, caught her breath, composed herself and carried on with the swim to complete the qualifier. It was a moment which could have gone either way between a not for me ‘No’ to an unstoppable ‘Go’.
All it takes to change ‘No’ to ‘Go’ is belief in yourself. Sometimes, like for me, that initial belief in myself did not come from within but it came from people who could see my potential, they sparked it and nurtured it, until I could own it. Other times, like for some of my friends, it is a less direct journey from ‘No’, via ‘Slow’ to eventually will become ‘Go’. For a few, there is no understanding of any other concept ‘Go’ just means ‘Go’.
Whoever you are, whatever you want to achieve, face the direction you want to move towards, and take the first step. Even if you fall flat on your face, you will be closer to where you want to be than if you’d never had a ‘Go’.