Swimathon stalwart Jacqueline on why she loves the annual fundraiser and getting others to join her
To complete a decade of appearances at any sporting event is a milestone worth celebrating.
And this is particularly true of Jacqueline Bowden-Excell, as she goes for her tenth Swimathon next month at the Bracknell Leisure Centre.
Jacqueline, 59, loved swimming from a young age and jumped at the chance to get back in the pool to help fundraise for Cancer Research UK as Swimathon makes a return to celebrate all things swimming.
Swimathon is annually held across one weekend, this year on May 6-8, with different lengths of individual or team challenges, with participants able to compete as part of their usual training sessions or in a relay as well as the individual distances of 400m-5km.
Jacqueline has Usher’s Syndrome, meaning she has dual-sensory impairment and that her first language is British Sign Language. Her type of Usher’s Syndrome means she was born profoundly deaf, with her sight deteriorating later in life Jacqueline registered as deafblind and uses a communication guide.
But her disability has never stopped her getting involved in the world's largest annual fundraising swim and she is an inspiring role model for those who may be considering making a splash this year.
“Most people when I started doing it didn’t have a disability,” she said. “But I’d like to say to anyone who has a disability or is deaf – please come and have a try. You’ll enjoy it!
“I know my body and always tell myself that I am capable and can do this. It’s something that is relatively natural to me – being in the water and swimming. So that is why I always come back (to Swimathon).
“When I am doing the lengths, I just focus purely on the numbers and counting them down. It is difficult because obviously I can’t communicate easily with other people, I can’t see other people.
“So as I’m doing the lengths I just count up in my head until I hit my target, and then I start again ‘one, two, three… etc’.
“I started swimming at Bracknell Leisure Centre - always with my communication guide, who saw a leaflet about the Swimathon and it made me think ‘I’d like to have a go at that.’ It all started from there really.”
“I want to support Cancer Research and raise as much money as I can. I want to help and I like a challenge.”
Jacqueline built up her distances year on year, swimming a slightly further distance each time. Eventually she was taking on the 5km distance.
“I really loved swimming and always swam from a young age, as well as taking part in competitions at school,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure because I felt I was coming into it a bit later in life but I tried the 1.5km and then saw there was a 2.5km. That is equal to 100 lengths, but I thought I could do it, so that is how it started for me.
“I just really enjoyed it from the first moment. As soon as I was leaving the pool I thought, ‘yes I’m going to do that again.’
“The following year I knew I could do the 5km and I have done it ever since!”
Jacqueline’s streak was only temporarily halted by the global pandemic. When Covid hit, Swimathon was suspended and she was left without something that had become a huge part of her life.
“I was so disappointed when the event was cancelled and I really missed it,” she said.
“Even when the lockdown passed and pools re-opened again, there were strict rules about limited time swimming and I didn’t feel that was the same.
“The virus took away that flexibility and it was difficult not being able to get in the pool. But it also makes me really appreciate what we have.”
Last year, Swimathon was able to return and Jacqueline took on her toughest challenge yet, by taking on the 5km.
But despite the extra distance, the chance to get back to her favourite event of the year was all the motivation she needed.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” she added. “But I mustn’t compare before to now. It’s different now and it's always a good chance to show myself how fit I am.
“I mustn’t worry about my age either – I’m just proud of my own achievements. I’ll carry on for a while yet!”
Swimathon 2022 will take place on Friday 6 - Sunday 8 May at over 450 venues across the UK. For more information and to sign up to take part, visit https://www.swimathon.org/get-involved