Body stories: Super heroes in swimsuits

March 06, 2024

Body stories: Super heroes in swimsuits

Have you ever stood on a beach, staring out to sea? What were you thinking about? For many of us, these moments are reflective. We might think about some aspect of our lives or marvel at the power and beauty of nature. But there are few special people who think about swimming across the ocean.

We met some of these people. Incredible women who swim across seas, lakes and down rivers, wearing their favourite D&Bs like superhero capes.

Deakin & Blue Signature Swimsuit Cobalt

Meet Mer-Mary

Unlike running, cycling or walking, endurance swimming is slow, cold and has more variables than you could imagine from mad tides and strong currents to unpredictable weather patterns and sharing the water with creatures that sting or bite.

The North Sea, for example, is known for its wild weather, cold water and Lion’s Mane jellyfish – all of which Mary encountered when she put on her D&B to swim from Ireland to Scotland. As if that’s not amazing enough, Mary did the swim as part of relay team of swimmers with disabilities.

“We had all the usual challenges but on top of that, there were the disabilities and various added medical problems and the access around the boat. We were all amputees and so I guess a lot of us also live with other injuries or pain,” she said. “And getting in and out of the boat was really tricky because the sides are quite high. So, it was fine jumping in, but getting back into the boat with tired shoulders was hard. And then there were the challenges every swimmer faces – the cold, the fatigue, the jellyfish.”

Mary told us how being physically active and focused on her ambitions helped her cope with losing her leg to cancer at the age of 17. She found that cycling and swimming helped her feel strong and resilient, and that helped with her mental health.

“I think that doing more and more swimming helped me realise that I actually had this quite strange skill set of being able to put up with long periods of being in cold water and also being courageous,” she said. “I also think that I began to appreciate far more the beauty of nature and the beauty of the human body and how much it can actually adapt. Living without a limb is really difficult, but in the water, you're not disadvantaged at all. I found my mobility and my freedom was completely unhampered.”

Deakin & Blue Deadstock Designs X-Back Blue Daisy

Ella’s epic swims

If you sat in a room full of people and tried to guess which ones could withstand endurance swimming, you’d be surprised. It’s one of things Outdoor Swimmer editor Ella loves about swimming outdoors.

“My swimsuit is my super cape. It’s bizarre: it’s the most stripped bare I could be (in a legal way!) in public and you can see everything when I’m in my swimsuit,” she says. “But as soon as I put it on and get in the water, I am reminded of how great my body is. I focus on breathing; I focus on what my body is capable of.”

Ella is capable of phenomenal levels of endurance in cold, open water. She’s swum marathon swims such as the Dart 10k and Thames Marathon, which is 14km, all without a wetsuit. Ella also finds that accomplishing mega-swims does untold good to how she feels about herself, especially her physical self.

“I think always focus on what your body can do – this is such a big thing. But, also, that so much of what our bodies can or can’t do is in your mind,” she says. “Almost everyone can look back on something they have managed and think ‘crikey I can’t believe I did that!’ Whether it’s giving birth, survived cancer, overcome a horrific injury. I would have loved, when I was growing up, to focus less on what I look like and more on the capability and the magic that our bodies are.”

 Deakin & Blue Essential Swimsuit in Plum

Kelly on the tri

Capability could be Kelly’s middle name. Not only has she developed her own swimming skills to the point of being able to compete in five triathlons, but she has also set up a triathlon club to enable others to experience body magic.

Triathlons use three different physical skills one after the other. You swim, then you cycle then you run. The distances vary from a super sprint, which is a 500-metre swim, 10km cycle and then a 2.5km run to an Iron Man, which is a 3.9km swim, 180km cycle and then a 42km run.

For some participants, triathlons can be pretty serious competitive sporting events. But for Kelly, it’s all about making it accessible and fun. She set up The Black Tri Tribe to empower people of colour to participate in what often looks like an elite, predominately white sport.

“There's definitely a space for elite sport – we like to see people that are the best at what they do. And that's great,” says Kelly. “But, if you're trying to get new people in, or people that might have done the sport pre-children, or at school, or in their former lives, there's no way in a normal person's mind they’ll look at themselves and think they want to reach elite level. If everybody that they see doing a sport in their age group is the top of the league, then there's no middle ground – you’re either an athlete or you're a couch potato.”

And that’s why endurance activities are so wonderful. They’re about challenging yourself, making yourself feel proud of your brilliant body. They play to different kinds of strengths like resilient minds, tolerance for the cold or an ability to keep on keeping on. You don’t have to be fast or an elite athlete to take part.

“I think there are initiatives like the couch to 5k that really made things accessible for the majority of the country,” says Kelly. “And I think that's where the changing narrative is coming from.”

Starting with a challenge event like a Parkrun or a kilometre slow swim down a river, you might be amazed by what you can do. And you never know where it might take you – you could become a hero in swimwear, one of the women like Mary, Ella and Kelly who do amazing, super-human things.