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11th October 2017

Ellery McGowan, 71

Ellery has won multiple world championships in open water, marathon and winter swimming. She is also head of swimming and waterpolo at Charterhouse school. Bolder photographed Ellery at Guildford Lido.

“I grew up on a farm in Tasmania and from about the age of five, my twin sister and I used to go to the beach on our own. Nobody came with us, so we pretty much taught ourselves to swim. I think we were probably the first people in the country to get nylon racing swimsuits, which made us very proud. After the ’56 Olympics I kept a scrapbook with all the details of the athletes and swimmers involved. We even made lane ropes out of twine for the dam in our garden.

Perhaps it’s that background that made me prefer open water swimming to indoor competitions. It might be cold, but you feel so good afterwards. At the World Cold Water Championships in Russia last year, I cut my arms from swimming through ice – but I didn’t even realize the blood until it was over. It’s hard to explain how good the water makes you feel – you come out and you glow because all the heat has gone to your core. Even here in the lido, you might look at the grey sky and find it uninspiring, but after a few kilometres, you always feel better.

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