Taking Open Water Swimming To The Next Level - Joanna Shimwell
With a strong discipline for exercise and an infectious passion for being outdoors, dryrobe® ambassador Joanna Shimwell is a dedicated amateur athlete who finds great motivation in training in natural environments.
Joanna spends most of her time working on her family farm, as well as running their Dale Farm campsite in the Peak District. Away from the day job she is committed to self-improvement, using a range of complementary sports to push her abilities and strive towards her goals, enhancing both her physical and mental health.
Focussing on outdoor swimming, we talk about her journey as an athlete, what she loves about training in nature and how outdoor sports have improved her general attitude towards life.
What motivates you to swim outdoors?
I love challenging myself in the outdoors. It's something that I really thrive on. I'm passionate about enjoyment and exercise in the outdoors, and I previously would just dip in lakes. I realised I wanted to be that person that could swim across a lake, and that would have the confidence to do it and enjoy it. So that's what made me realise I needed to really up my game with swimming and put some time and energy into improving it, so that I can now confidently go somewhere, see an open body of water and think I'm going to swim across it and completely enjoy the process.
There's something for me that is absolutely divine about getting to experience a location from the water. It's just so special, so precious. When you get in, you see the landscape from a different perspective, which I think is just truly wonderful and I'm so delighted that I've managed to do that and get to that place.
How did your swim journey begin and what have you done to improve your technique?
My swim journey has taken me from being just a breaststroke swimmer to learning how to improve my front crawl technique and really having a love for open water swimming, pushing myself, trying to swim further, for longer and also swim better. So I've put effort into getting time in the water. I had some coaching and looked at my head position, looked at my stroke technique, really working with driving from my hips and then just practice, practice, practice.
I find that the more time that I spend in the water and the more I think about my technique, the better I’m getting and the more I’m relaxing and enjoying my swimming.
Have you seen a change in your mentality as a result of open water swimming in other areas of your life?
I've had times in my life where I have struggled with my mood and my focus and I really have felt like things weren't going well for me.
Taking on sport and really trying to work at something has given me a sense of purpose and focus and I've learned about discipline. I certainly think that swimming involves discipline and, and to train and get better involves focus. And, in accomplishing those things, you realise that you can improve in other areas of your life too.
I know that if I go and take myself off into the water, that I get a break from all of my thoughts and I come out of the water feeling renewed and happy and purposeful, and like I've accomplished something. And that really does bring me happiness and enjoyment every day.
How has the discipline required for training helped shape your general attitude?
I found that by really challenging myself in the gym and my swimming and cycling, it's actually given me a lot more confidence and determination that's paid off in my career because I think I didn't have as much - so I doubted myself more.
So by pushing myself in sport, I now find that I've got grit and determination that I can put into challenging areas of work. It’s just helping me feel better equipped to handle the negative things and the tough things that life throws at you.
How have you invested in looking after your mental health and wellbeing outside of open water swimming and what results have you seen?
Just as I believe that being a better swimmer involves me putting in training outside of swim time in the gym, I also think that to excel in a particular discipline, you have to put time in with the mental side of things as well.
So I try to meditate and I push myself really hard when I'm doing my gym sessions, which really helps me to find that focus and get used to discomfort.
I think that it pays off because you feel fear. I think when you head down to the water, and you're about to swim and you have to tell yourself that you can do it, that you've got that strength. You've got the self discipline to get over the fear and get in the water. And then once you start swimming and you relax, you realise that you don't need to doubt yourself, but that definitely takes practice. And I think sometimes that fear can stop you from wanting to even get in the water and tackle a big swim.
How do you see yourself progressing to get to the next level when training?
I'm very goal driven. I like to set personal goals for myself and I definitely would like to enter some swimming challenges, do some competitions. I think that would be taking me out of my comfort zone and that would be a great opportunity for growth and to face discomfort - face fear again. Then afterwards, I would have something else under my belt that will make me feel better, stronger and more confident.
I know that I'm not perfect at any of the sports and disciplines that I do, but I have a willingness to learn and be committed. And I'm not trying to be the best in the field. I'm just trying to improve myself. And for me, that is a really rewarding process that I'm just trying to get a bit better, push a little bit harder and feel like I'm achieving something. And I'm going somewhere with sports and my passions.
How do you think growing up in a rural area has helped inspire your passion for getting active outdoors?
I grew up in the Peak District, so I'm surrounded by beautiful countryside. I've got trails, open water and rivers all on my doorstep, which I'm extremely grateful for. And as I've gotten better as an outdoor athlete, I can enjoy what's around me more and more. So I really see that my environment has nourished me and helped me to grow into the person that I am. And I'm truly grateful for that.
What advice would you give to someone who’s hoping to start outdoor sports?
The fear of not being the best or the fear of not being good enough is something that could probably put you off taking on any new discipline or any new sport. But I really think that's when you have to push the levels of your comfort zone- that's where growth happens and that is where the magic happens.
So by putting your fears and doubts to one side, you learn something new and you get to experience new things, meet new people, go to new places and there's a whole world out there that opens up for you. You’ve just got to get going.