Woman for All Seasons Helen Edwards has insinuated herself on my psyche almost by stealth. I honestly can’t remember when I met her first; it goes back years. We have swum together through thick water and thin, in ice and pouring rain, in summer like dolphins in the Thames at King’s Lock, and upstream and downstream of that. The year before last she joined me on the final 3 kilometers of my usually annual swim to work, from Eynsham Lock to Port Meadow, in Oxford. Over Christmas we swam, along with Federica and Kristie and Deya (a visitor from Bristol whom I was to see again at the Winter Swimming World Championships at Lake Bled, Slovenia in February) across a flooded Port Meadow, pretending we were in the Amazon. She accompanied me on several of my 65@65 swims, the most memorable of which was swim #41, at Parliament Hill Lido, London. She was a member of our PHISH relay team – she Neil, Emma and myself. Helen’s local water is the Thames at Iffley Lock, Emma’s local water too. She was at Hampstead Ponds too, not quite in swim #40, the Men’s Pond, although in the previous year she swam there with all other members of the Oxford Dodos relay team, Jeremy, Neil and myself. At PHISH, at Parliament Hill Lido, Helen joined me in an impromptu ‘dum-de-dum’ version of Abba’s “Super Trooper” as we were in the queue to register. Helen is not immune to a happy tune. Indeed, at her birthday swim in another previous swim, she had a friend playing the bagpipes as we entered the Thames at Donnington Bridge. Another fine birthday swim. Helen said then, at PHISH, that we need a Dodo Song. We still need a Dodo song, now in the autumn of 2020, but we have tried a few out, which is progress.
Helen can tell who someone is, someone she has swum with, from the way they swim, something I find much more difficult. But I can recognise Helen from her swimming. She is slight of build and a darting eel– quick but with a stroke that does not draw attention to itself, which is to say, a very good stroke indeed, quiet and efficient and graceful.
A gentle soul with deep inner strength, Helen swims every single day of the year. It started with a dip every day in January, now more than three and a half years ago, to raise funds and bring attention to the plight of homeless people in Oxford in the most difficult months of the year. Homelessness in Oxford is in my view a scandal – a city of such great wealth should be able to deal with the social issues on its doorstep. Helen believes this, as do many people, many more since Helen’s lone project. What started with a dip a day through a January became a dip a day into the summer, then a dip-a-day into the autumn and winter, and then, why not go on? Which she has, now deep into her fourth year. I have swum with Helen many, many times – she is strong and resilient, but doesn’t have a huge capacity for the cold, without a wetsuit. I hope if you are reading this, Helen, this is a respectful comment. For I have the deepest respect for Helen – she can swim the length of Lake Windermere (16 kilometers, now you ask) and can dip in an ice pool. She is an astonishing photographer, and was the first to say to me “if there is magic anywhere, it is in water”, a mantra I keep close to my heart. In this podcast, Helen talks about her dip-a-day, what inspired it, and tells of some of her more memorable swims in this continuing project.
Helen Edwards on Swimmingpod -
On YouTube -