On Sunday 20th March the Centre for Sustainable Fashion entered the 2016 Sport Relief Swimathon to help transform lives in the UK and in some of the world’s poorest communities.
Team Grease Lightening, headed by Anna Fitzpatrick (currently on maternity leave), with Renee Cuoco, Nina Stevenson, Dilys Williams, Charlotte Turner, Katelyn Toth-Fejel (along with 23,115 other swimmers in the UK) donned their swimsuits and goggles to join the 2016 Swimathon in the Olympic Park Pool in Stratford. As a newcomer to CSF, I swam in the London Fields Lido, joining the team later for celebrations. We swam over 7.5 km between us and the team were congratulated by Olympic gold medallist, Duncan Goodhew.
Prior to the Swimathon we had a cake sale at LCF, with homemade chocolates, biscuits and cakes raising £150. The CSF team were generously sponsored and raised over £400 for 2016 Sport Relief!
Team Grease Lightening was inspired by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926 at the age of 19. She entered the seas on the French beach at Cap Gris-Nez wearing her own design two-piece red swimsuit, cap and goggles like a motorist’s. Her swimsuit, although risqué for its time, was more like shorts and a crop top than a bikini as we know it today. She was smeared in lanolin, petroleum jelly, olive oil and lard by her sister Meg, to protect her both from the cold and poisonous jellyfish.
Despite being blown off course countless times, having to swim 35 miles rather than the standard 21 and pausing for chocolate and meat broth extended to her on a pole from her tow boat, after 14 hours, 31 minutes she came ashore in Dover, trouncing 5 men who had preceded her by 2 hours. Many had deemed it an impossible feat for a woman, but Gertrude went on to inspire more than 60,000 women to earn their Red Cross swimming certificate and gave sportswomen a new legitimacy, touring Europe and America.
Gertrude had suffered hearing loss as a child caused by a bout of measles and she had been warned against swimming, but said, “I was happiest between the waves.” Her hearing was permanently damaged during her Channel crossing, and by the 1940s she was practically deaf. She spent the years before her retirement teaching deaf children to swim in a collapsible swimming tank.
Another remarkable and more recent swimming feat was achieved by 17-year-old, Yusra and her sister, Sarah, who were two of twenty refugees fleeing Syria in a boat off the Turkish coast, when the engine failed. Most couldn’t swim but Yusra and Sarah could. They got into the freezing water and kicked, pushing the dinghy for 3.5 hours slowly towards Europe. Thanks to them everyone in the boat survived.
Yusra said, “If I was going to drown at least I’d drown proud of myself and my sister.” Yusra had dreamt of competing in the Olympics for years and now she hopes to qualify to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. “I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, come calm days. I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) identified Yusra and 42 others for its team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. None of these athletes would normally be able to participate in the Olympics because their status as refugees has deprived them of a home country to represent. The IOC say the team will march just behind the Olympic flag ahead of their Olympic hosts, at the opening ceremony on the 5th August in Rio de Janeiro. “You never know what will happen,” Yusra said. “Just keep trying. Maybe you’ll get a chance like I did. Or maybe you’ll make your own chance.”
Watch this space for further Grease Lightening team adventures!