Swimsuits superheroes: Five super swimming women

May 10, 2023

Swimsuits superheroes: Five super swimming women

Forget the capes and pants over the tights, these five superheroes wear swimsuits. Incredible women who’ve each taken their passion for swimming outdoors and used it to inspire, motivate and support others. Not that they’d ever consider themselves superheroes. And yet, the support they’ve given, inspiring stories they've told, and opportunities they’ve created for others has been life-changing.

Deakin & Blue Essential Swimsuit

  1. Rachel, founder of Mental Health Swims

Having struggled with her own mental illness and issues around her identity, Rachel had an idea. Understanding that there is a whole swathe of people who are too shy or introverted or whose mental health stops them from accessing group support, she wanted to set up a safe, inclusive space to allow anyone and everyone to join in and swim in the sea. Mental Health Swims is now an international network of inclusive groups supporting swimmers and dippers from the Isle of Harris in Scotland to South Africa.

“Ever since I was a kid, I've loved organising weird events. I used to put on plays with my friends in the neighbourhood. It would all be really organised; there'd be signs like, this way to the toilet, and my dad would help put up some curtains and I would like tell all the kids to get their families to bake cakes to sell at the show. I would write a play and then we would perform it and then we’d give all the money to charity. My mum has always said that ever since I was a little child, my finger would come up in the air, and I'd say, I've got an idea, and then I would go and make it happen.

“But I really lost sight of that; I hadn’t had an idea for quite a long time. And then, that year of starting therapy, finally finding the right therapist, and that first dip, that little finger came back. I was like, I've got an idea and I'm going to try it. So that year, I joined Mental Health Mates as a volunteer, and then I set up a film club in a pub and a running club. Anyway, then I was like, we could have an outdoor swimming group. I put a shout out, and from doing stuff about mental health on my Instagram, I advertised to start this group called the Swansea Mental Health Sea Swimmers.

“At the first group, nearly 30 people turned up and I was really scared, but it was great. And I think the little ‘I have an idea’ me was awoken again. So, it became a monthly swim and it was really popular. Then lockdown happened, and I was like, I want to make welcoming spaces. And it just grew from there.

“It's grown a lot. It's all down to the amazing volunteers. There is no lack of swimming groups, but I think there are lots of people out there who find it hard to join in, which is the purpose of Mental Health Swims. It’s about asking, how do we make it easier to join in? We give reassurance to people that our hosts have done some training, and they get it; they're going to talk to you in a way where they're not going to accidentally stigmatise you.”

Find out more about Mental Health Swims groups near you. Read Rachel's Body Story

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  1. Ella, Editor of Outdoor Swimmer magazine

Writer, editor and outdoor swimmer, Ella channels all her passion and skill into Outdoor Swimmer magazine. Having written about outdoor swimming for years, she because contributing editor. Then, when the editor stepped down, Ella took over, relaunching the magazine with a beautiful new design and inspiring, informative content. It’s hard to guess just how many swimmers her magazine inspires and supports with its advice, product reviews, event listings and expert insight.

“I’m an outdoor swimming journalist: I cover stories in and out of the water. I’m editor for Outdoor Swimmer magazine and I write for a number of other publications including Stylist, The Times and The Guardian. I’m the Director of Dip Advisor, an outdoor swim guiding business where we take people to enjoy outdoor swimming spaces. Dip Advisor is not about event swimming or competing, but about the joy of swimming at a leisure pace. I love to design swims that take you on a journey, support you in a body of water that is meaningful to you or hosting special swims with seasonal fun elements like flower crowns and pumpkins.

“I’m based in Surrey and swim all around the home counties. I love river swimming in the Jubilee, Thames and Wey. Ever changing, river swimming is a lovely way to embrace the seasons.

“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. 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. I think muscle memory is amazing: I could not swim for weeks but I know that when I get back in the water my body will remember how to breathe and move. My muscles will wake up, and yes they might hurt, but they’ll move as they’re supposed to. On dry land I often feel heavy, clumsy, cumbersome. In the water I feel graceful and light.”

Check out Outdoor Swimmer magazine. Read Ella's Body Story.

Deakin & Blue X-Back Swimsuit

  1. Kath, co-founder of Seabirds

Kath has taken how she feels about swimming in the sea in Brighton and flown. Founding the Seabirds, a community enterprise that promotes sea swimming to improve wellbeing, she also set up a swim shop that sources and sells ethically-made products and puts its profits back into local charities. Seabirds also runs ‘Salted wellbeing’ courses and events that are free to people who identify as having mental health and wellbeing difficulties.

“When I had children, I wanted them both to learn to swim too. My daughter really took to it and when she was 10 I found a surf lifesaving club in Brighton for her to join. When I had a breakdown, I left my high paid corporate job and begun volunteering at the club too. It kept me going and got me out of the house. I’ve volunteered with them on Saturday mornings for the last 8 years – training the next wave of Brighton lifeguards.

“At the club I met Cath and we started swimming in the sea together. We both had personal things we were working through and then, one day, we had a lightbulb moment – we realised how much better swimming in the sea made us feel and we wanted to spread the word and get other women involved. And so we founded the Seabirds – a community of women in Brighton who swim together regularly. There are organised swims every day and we can have up to 100 people joining at any time. My favourite swim of the week is every Monday at 10.45am, we call it Monday Mass – it’s my weekly worship.”

Find out more about the Seabirds. Read Kath's Body Story.

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  1. Mickey, founder of Girls to the Front

One of the most important groups of people needing support with their mental health, confidence, identity and self-esteem is teenage girls. That’s where Mickey steps in. Using her personal experience of being active and outdoors, and rebelling against female stereotypes, Mickey set up Girls to the Front.

“It’s a community that helps young girls feel empowered, gives them a voice and helps them see that they have value. I think it comes from those experiences of me growing up and seeing first-hand how you can be made to feel invisible and you want to shrink and make yourself very quiet. I’m now trying to show girls that their thoughts, feelings, emotions and opinions have so much value and that they can help their peers. I use a phrase, being a lighthouse. So, you shine just by existing and it helps other people navigate rough waters and know there’s a point of safety. It's just the idea that you can just exist on full volume and that will help you and others become really strong, incredible humans.

“We run physical sessions in a gym where we do functional fitness style training. That’s lots of carrying big, heavy things, climbing and swinging. We do lots of play-based activities. I believe in the value of play because I think it's really important for our development, not only when we're younger, but also when we're older. I think we lose the ability to play and we put up loads of barriers because we think it's just messing around. But it's so fundamental to everything that we do. Like, going in to the sea and splashing about, doing doggy paddle and diving under waves is play and it’s so valuable.”

Find out more about Girls to the Front. Read Mickey's Body Story.

Deakin & Blue Essential Swimsuit

  1. Sian, found of Bluetits Chill Swimmers

After switching from triathlons and ultramarathons to the freezing-cold waves of Pembrokeshire one winter, it was Sian’s dynamic personality and the volume of her whoops and squeals that drew people to her. From there, the Bluetits Chill Swimmers grew, becoming a social enterprise that nurtures its huge community of swim groups, coaches and employees.

“I trained for two years for my Ironman and in the second year of training my hips started to go. I was back and forth to the doctors who reassured me that I’d be fine but after the Ironman if felt as though my body was broken. I knew it wasn’t working and I needed something else. Someone suggested I try ice swimming. All you need is a swimsuit, they told me. And maybe a thermometer. Up until that point I’d been a real kit queen, always wanting to have the best Garmin and the best wetsuit. So I couldn’t believe it. She suggested doing an ice mile, and I like the extreme of every sport, so I decided to give it a go.

“I started swimming in cold water and my husband said to me "you’re laughing a lot, you’re making a lot of noise." I’d always taken my triathlon training very seriously but the swimming just seemed ridiculously fun. We decided to give ourselves a funny name and my husband suggested The Bluetits, for obvious reasons. A friend designed the bird logo and we had some t-shirts made. Then we started looking for different swim spots. We enjoyed ‘going on tour’, dipping the thermometer in and squealing "it’s 7 degrees!" We made a lot of noise. People used to come up to us and say "do you know how cold it is?! What are you doing?" But mostly people wanted to join us and to get involved.

“I started giving people badges to commemorate their various swims and achievements – I loved this. Then about two years ago my husband asked me "do you realise how much money we’re spending on badges?!" So I started to sell t-shirts to cover the cost of the badges. And then my daughter in law, Sarah, said "would you like some help running this?" And I met Gail, and Sam and the whole thing came to life and we established The Bluetits Chill Swimmers Ltd as a social enterprise. We launched the Great Tit Weekend shortly after that with 100 women joining us for a weekend of walking and swimming. It was tremendous fun.

“Now I don’t do very much with the running of the business because it bores the tits off me and I’m always getting in trouble for saying yes to things without checking with the team. But I’m still the front woman – I’m good at it. I can talk ‘til the cows come home and I will go out on a limb and do anything for anyone. Recently I met someone who was very nervous about wearing a swimsuit so I met her for a private swim to build her confidence. I do stuff like that, making people feel welcome and otherwise go about spreading the word about what we’re up to.”

Find out more about The Bluetits. Read Sian's Body Story.