Mum pushes herself through pain barrier with fractured arm and chest infection to complete 365 swims in sea and rivers in a year to raise money for Hilsea Lido

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A MUM pushed herself through the pain barrier to complete a gruelling 365 swims in a year to raise funds for Portsmouth’s only outside swimming pool.

Teacher Rachel Whitfield, 40, swam in the ocean, rivers and lidos every day - including in darkness - throughout the year to raise money for Hilsea Lido.

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The incredible feat was achieved despite the Hedge End mum-of-five fracturing her arm and being struck down by a chest infection.

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Rachel Whitfield. Pic suppliedRachel Whitfield. Pic supplied
Rachel Whitfield. Pic supplied

She completed her challenge on New Year’s Day at Calshot Beach along with forty other cold-water swimmers from Hampshire Open Water Swimmers.

Rachel raised nearly £1,500 for Hilsea Lido, which has struggled for more than a decade until it was boosted in October after being handed £3.5m in the chancellor’s Budget.

Speaking of her achievement, Rachel said: ‘I love swimming - it’s become a way of life.

‘I’m relieved but I’m sad in a way it’s over. It was a life affirming thing to do and I’ll miss the community side of it. I had a lot of swimmers who joined me to make sure I was not on my own in a dark river at night.

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‘I’m pleased I did it and have raised money for Hilsea Lido which is a lovely little hub that is accessible for all swimmers and has an army of volunteers who do so much for the place.

‘They were a bit surprised when I told them I was raising money for them but were very grateful.’

Rachel said one of the hardest parts of swimming every day was fitting it around everyday things.

‘Even if things go well on a normal day then it can still be hard to fit it in but when you have children’s birthdays, weddings and anniversaries to go to still it is even harder,’ she said.

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‘I also broke my elbow when I was hit by a big wave swimming in the sea at Hayling Island in October, so after that I was swimming one-armed in a sling.

‘I got a chest infection but was told by a nurse the benefits of cold water swimming outweighed the negatives. And I’ve got an autoimmune condition and was sick for three days so needed people to take me to the river and dunk me in.’

Having fellow swimmers around her was also vital from a safety point of view. ‘People came with me to make sure I wasn’t on my own swimming in the dark. You should never take risks in cold water,’ Rachel said.

Rachel said swimming in cold water was a ‘brilliant’ to do with all the health benefits it brings.

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‘I’m not sure how people have got through the pandemic without doing something like this that keeps you in the moment,’ she said. ‘It’s now part of my go to self-care.

‘It is something that doctors are now prescribing to people with anxiety and depression to do alongside medication because of the benefits.’

Rachel said Hampshire Open Water Swimmers had seen a big rise in the number of people joining the group as has the social enterprise Mental Health Swims. ‘There’s been a massive boom in membership with people keen to learn how to do it,’ she said.

‘It’s great because it’s fun and you are with all different types of people. It’s lovely how it’s such a leveller.’

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