The day I signed up for the Great North Swim. Meet Elizabeth Byrnes
I have always loved the water. When I was a baby I was happy splashing about in the bath before learning to swim at a pool located minutes from our home in Sheffield in northern England.
I went whenever I could and when we moved it was to a house near an open air pool where I was to be found for days on end in the school holidays.
At other times I would hop on a bus and go back to the indoor pool, diving in and going up and down, up and down, for hours.
When I got out I would get crisps and chocolate from the vending machine, hair all tangled and unbrushed and with eyes streaming from the chlorine.
It was heaven for me as time meant nothing but spare a thought for the adult accompanying for what must have seemed an eternity.
It was safer for me to be in the water though after one incident at the pool when I was two and sitting with my mum while my older sister Fran was having lessons.
Never one to sit still for long, I took myself out of the spectator seating, down the stairs and out of the building.
I decided to go home which involved crossing a very busy road and sat on the doorstep crying as no-one was home.
After a while I toddled off and was trying to cross the road again when a friendly policeman noticed me and whisked me off to the police station.
I thought it was great – I got to go in a police car – but unbeknown to me, there was complete panic at the pool which had to be emptied as a desperate search got under way before I was eventually reunited with my mum and sister.
Family holidays in northern England would see my parents wrapped up on the beach while I dived in and out of the waves.
And it was family who would watch me at galas and take me to training although, not liking losing, my swimming career did not last long.
It was through the encouragement of family that I followed my love of sport and became a sports journalist, privileged to have witnessed the best from Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe through to present day Arena greats, Adam Peaty and Sarah Sjostrom.
As time has gone on, so have things changed. I lost my father Michael in 1999 and in 2008 mum, Pat, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
She continued to live alone in the home where we had grown up, a strong, independent woman with a keen sense of humour.
But another condition, cerebellar ataxia, meant her balance was deteriorating and she progressively fell more and more.
To cut a long story short, mum was a danger to herself and she was admitted to a home in October 2017.
Although everything had pointed in that direction for some time, I had pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind, so when it did happen it was a complete shock.
I felt in a spin, the full spectrum of emotions buffeting me from all sides, and falling headlong into a different universe with nothing familiar to grab hold of and steady me.
In the first weeks especially exercise was a saving grace, the steadiness of the pool and water calming me.
And then it just came to me and with no great build-up to my decision– I would do a fundraising swim. So I signed up to do the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere in June to raise money for Alzheimer’s UK.
That was the easy part – now for the next step.