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Neil Stewart Athlete Ambassador

by Alexandra Parren

open water swimming

Neil is an open water swimmer whose big challenge this year is to swim the English Channel solo. He talks to Sundried about life in the water.

Have you always been into sport?

I’ve been a huge sports enthusiast since I was a kid. If there’s competition, I’m on it, if it's live, I’m there.

What made you decide to enter the world of swimming?

I swam competitively from the age of 8 with my local swimming club representing the club, county and country over a period of 9 years. My foray into open water swimming and more specifically marathon swimming was about taking on a new challenge.

What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

My favourite organised event has to be the Big Welsh Swim (Lyn Padarn) which is 9km (or 3 lengths of the lake!) Despite cramping up after 7km, the beautiful scenery and camaraderie around the event was amazing, and it was my first!

In terms of favourite swim locations, it has to be the Lake District. I was part of a relay team that swam Ullswater and Windermere 2-way, non-stop last year. Windermere in the dark is magical!

And your proudest achievement?

The most recent would have to be completing the three-person English Channel relay in under 12 hours with two of my best swimming buddies. But my proudest of all time is seeing how my son has been inspired by my swimming and his determination to be the youngest to swim Windermere (he’s 8!)

Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

The Channel relay was pretty horrendous. After my first leg I suffered from awful sea sickness and as a result didn’t eat for the rest of the challenge; I had to curl up and hold on to the boat for comfort! It's funny looking back on it but at the time all I wanted to do was get back in the water.

How do you overcome setbacks?

Over the years of my competitive swimming, I’ve developed a resilience and more recently become quite analytical in reflections on an event. I’m a positive person and I find that processing it all helps get it out of the system and identify areas I can be better at. Every lap, whether in a pool, lake or the sea, is a learning curve.

What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

This is a difficult one; you pick up lots on the way such as what to drink before and after an event, how to warm up, and how to cope with the cold. But for open water swimming, it would have to be to take time in the water to look around and take it all in. The water can be a healing place. However when racing, get your head down and go for it!

What are your goals for 2020?

I have several B swims this year including a 2-way solo Ullswater swim, a 36km overnight challenge, and a triple 10km sea swim. The big one is in August –The English Channel solo.

Who do you take your inspiration from?

My open water swimming inspiration comes from the magazine Swimming Times. When I was 13 I read the edition when Alison Streeter had just completed her 3-way swim of the Channel – I thought, how could I do that? Since then, I have dreamed of completing it. More recently, I have drawn inspiration from the adventures and teachings of Ross Edgeley, the first person to swim around the UK.

What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

I came across Sundried whilst Christmas shopping. I wanted to find a practical, ethical product from a company that promoted the sustainable fashion culture. The more I read the more I wanted to tell people about Sundried. What I like is the look and feel of the garments is fantastic and it's all at affordable prices. I’m looking forward to showing off my new gear in Pilates class next week!

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