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Why I Swim - Lou Holmes

I swim because... 

My mum got cancer when I was 7. It was a frightening time and she had some brutal treatment. But she recovered and almost immediately started working several jobs to keep things afloat at home. This included racing around town on her bike, with her beautiful, long hair flowing behind her, cleaning house after house. She always cycled whatever the weather and told me that the rain was good for our hair. I swim because having wet hair reminds me of our secret understanding that this is a Good Thing.

She retrained and was working in the pulmonary physiotherapy team when her cancer came back. I was older and went to most of her appointments. We laughed at magazine articles in waiting rooms, we watched the 2008 Olympics together from her hospital bed, we teased our favourite doctors. We had loads of fun in the times between the fright and the sorrow. Sometimes I’ll swim every single morning at sunrise if the tides and timings align and the weather is good. I’m sure swimmers see more sunrises than most and have strengthened the muscles needed to seize the day. I swim because in the times between sorrow, living is important.

Lou Holmes swimming in a lake surrounded by hills

One winter was particularly dark. She caught a dangerous strain of pneumonia and was in a coma. Christmas was cancelled as we spoke desperately to each other before she was intubated. I walked to the hospital through the worst snow in years, as nurses slept there to avoid being snowed in at home overnight. I find comfort in being tested by the bright spike of a winter swim. Painfully cold swims make me feel untouchable for the rest of the day, the way a crisis bounces away any unimportant nonsense with the automation of an out-of-office email.

My mum was a fierce champion of others, especially if they were trying to do something difficult or frightening. She was thoughtful, kind and encouraging when helping her patients. She was warm and friendly. I wish I was a bit more like her when swimming with others but sometimes I like some distance, watching from the outskirts. I like showing someone a new place or helping people take the plunge for the first time. I have faith they can do it. I like the gentle cuppa afterwards where I get to listen to people talk about their life. I like knowing we’re in it together. I like the unspoken understanding that if things don’t go to plan, we’ll try and rescue each other. I swim because I like making others feel safe and strong.

There was the summer of the emergency radiotherapy. There was the dramatic weekend where she had the last bag of platelets in the hospital to stop her bleeding to death. There were new treatments, better scans and more hospitals. She kept following doctor’s orders, trusting in them and carrying on as normal.

Some of the places I swim I have visited since before my mum became ill. Dramatic cliffs are familiar silhouettes and from the waves, look like the shape of home. These beaches are my still point in a turning world. In contrast, swimming helps me notice the detail of the passing of time. Leaves fall, trees and temperatures change colour. This too shall pass.

Silhouetted lake and landscape

I swim because of the water. I like lots of swim spots – the Disney-esque bird and squirrel-lined river nearby is a daily swoosh. I am near lots of beaches and their mercurial wave machines. A favourite spot is a reservoir that requires a walk before arriving at endless blue. I like being rolled over by a wave and being the reason for ripples on silent water. I like not knowing what’s underneath and not being able to touch the bottom. I like the uncertainty of not knowing quite how rough the sea is until I get in. I like knowing that I do hard things.

She relapsed 13 times. She had two bone marrow transplants. She had an experimental drug. They called her Lazarus. They called her Legend. My mum was an unbelievably strong, brave, brilliant person. She is my inspiration.

I swim because I am her daughter and it reminds me that I am just a little bit brave like her.

Lou Holmes and her amazing Mum


Our Why I Swim project aims to give voice to our untold swim stories and strengthen our fantastic community. If you would like to share your story, drop us an email at


If you are new to outdoor swimming and feel inspired to give it a go, please ensure you do so safely. 

Firstly, have a read of our tips for winter swimming here and familiarise yourself with what's useful to have in your wild swim kit.

We would strongly advise trying out your first swim with an experienced cold water swimmer until you are completely confident of your own abilities. 

The Outdoor Swimming Society has a great list of local swimming groups which is well worth checking out and a quick search on Facebook should provide results.

And if you have any questions, pop a post in the Swim Feral Facebook page and our fantastic community of swimmers will be sure to help. 

Happy swimming xx



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