19 July, 2022
A 24 hour swim event with just one 200-strong team
As a group activity, swimming lags far behind running and cycling, with far fewer official events taking place each year, and usually only during the warmer water months between May and September. However, there are some fantastic new events popping up which are ideal for those who simply love swimming and aren’t in any hurry to get out of the water.
This year marks the third Level Water 24-hour swim, an open water team endurance event with an emphasis on universal inclusion. As long as you’re able to stay in the water for an hour, you’ve got what it takes to sign up. A team can be made up of 2-8 swimmers, swimming continuously through a full day and night, from noon til noon.
There’s no competitive aspect to Level Water. It’s not a race, the challenge is simply to keep going. It’s part of a series of swim events under the banner of Swim Collective, raising money to improve access to swimming for young people with disabilities.
I’m here representing Wiltshire Wild Swimmers, who have two teams taking turns to swim through the day and night. We all have a night-time shift and mine is 1am, a time I’ve not seen since my twenties.
I’ve been all-seasons swimming with WWS for nearly five years, in which time it’s grown from a couple of dozen members to over 1,000. I’ve met countless new faces at dips across the county, but most of my team members are still complete strangers to me until the day of the event.
Our team is short, tall, skinny, buxom, old(ish), young(ish), male and female. Poolside I can see wheelchair users, amputees and swimmers ranging in age from 18 to 75. In fact, the only non-inclusive team I spy is one entirely made up of bearded men, perhaps not accidentally. (?)
There’s comradery by the bucketload, as giant flasks of hot chocolate are handed around and morning breakfast rolls appear from every direction. A fire burns through the night for those exiting the pool in the moonlight, and come morning we all help each other on with our already wet wetsuit as the hours roll on and fatigue sets in.
It's been a real thrill to be involved in such an uplifting event. The team at Level Water have been energised and involved for the whole experience, which is desperately welcome as I crawl up the steps out of the water at 2am after a chilly 60 minutes of salty immersion.
As noon approaches, we’re all called poolside to cheer in the last swimmers. Except they aren’t quite the last swimmers, because as the siren calls our challenge to an end, we’re all jumping back in, to celebrate our magnificent achievement. The pontoon is soon heaving with dripping, whooping celebrants. After ten minutes of pure mayhem, we’re all invited (begged, actually) to cheer each other out, claim our precious Level Water swim badge and dry ourselves off for the very last time.
The teams at Clevedon this weekend have raised a fantastic £55,000, which is enough to fund 3,600 swimming lessons. The aim is for Level Water beneficiaries to field their own teams at next year’s events and I will certainly be back to see them confidently take to the water.
In the meantime, the third and final of this year’s endurance events takes place in Liverpool on 17 September. It’s not too late to get involved. You’ll make friends, eat cake, get wet, stay wet and earn another swimming badge for your collection, all whilst supporting a fantastic cause.
You can find information on all Swim Collective’s future events online, and if you’re looking for your local wild swimming groups, have a look around on Instagram or Facebook.
Jenny-Anne Dexter is a full-time life enthusiast, who likes to say yes to the abstract, the sublime and the ridiculous. A bog snorkeller, trail runner, year-round dipper and sometime cage fighter, she's currently deciding on which will be her next challenge... You can see Jenny-Anne and all of our other contributors here.
Read more of Jenny-Anne's articles here: