HOW I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE SCILLY SWIM CHALLENGE – By Annie Cowen
Annie Cowen is a Serial Scilly Swim Challenge Swimmer. Annie’s a registered midwife now working in Fertility. She lives in Berkshire with her husband and two sons and earned her first swim badge at the age of 3! Adam Peaty learned to swim in the same pool she learned in!We asked Annie what she liked about the Challenge and the Isles of Scilly and this is what she had to say.
I first took part in the Scilly Swim Challenge in 2018. My brother and I entered after losing our mum; she’d loved the Scillies when she’d visited in the 80’s and told me I would love them too. She also loved sea swimming so we thought it would be a fitting way to remember her.
I was smitten from the first sight of the islands. The trip on the Scillonian had been fabulous. We saw dolphins, gannets and even a minke whale in the distance. We’d been surrounded by nervous looking dryrobe wearers who we could only assume were going to be our companions over the next few days. Arriving in St Mary’s, we were met with a warm welcome. Our bags were whisked off to our accommodation leaving us to take a leisurely stroll through Hugh Town and grab some lunch.
That evening we apprehensively approached Porthmellon beach for registration and our acclimatisation swim and event briefing. The beach was covered in anxious looking swimmers, some in wetsuits, some in skins but all smiling, if a little nervously. The organisers did an amazing job of putting us all at ease. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves to those around us and by the time we had completed the 400m swim we were all chatting and laughing together.
I can honestly say I loved every minute of the two day event. The encouragement from the support kayakers and powerboat crews was second to none. At no point did I feel unsafe in the water even when the swell was getting up. Support on land between swims was great too, checking that we were all feeling ok, cheering us in as we came up the beach to check in after each swim. Friendships were made as we crossed each island on foot to the start of the next swim. I enjoyed that event in 2018 so much and persuaded my husband that a long weekend on the Isles of Scilly would be a great way to celebrate my 50th birthday. Having been smitten with the islands during our all too brief birthday trip, my husband joined me when I entered the 2021 swim. On arrival at registration he offered up his services to volunteer, thinking he could help with bag loading on and off boats or checking in swimmers. He ended up helping with safety support on one of the powerboats and absolutely loved it. He felt the same camaraderie as I had described and loved encouraging and helping the swimmers. So much so that he came back in 2022 and is now on the safety team with Dewi and the gang for 2023.
The Scilly Swim challenge has become a firm fixture in our family calendar. Last year my 85 year old dad joined us and soaked up the atmosphere, joining us for the party on the beach after the event and enjoying revisiting the islands that he and my mum had fallen in love with in the 80s. My dear swimming friend Pam has also joined us two years in a row. She hadn’t felt able to cover the distances in open sea herself but followed on the spectator boat and was on hand with a hot flask and to help me get warm and dry after each swim. The beauty of this event is that it is as much fun for supporters and crew as it is for the swimmers.
I have made some lovely friendships through the Scilly Swim challenge. Every year we stay a few days longer and discover parts of the islands that we haven’t managed to get to the year before. This year I will be swimming in the two day event again but my husband is covering both one and two day events with the safety crew so I am looking forward to offering my volunteering services to support the one day swim.
If you get the opportunity to enter this event, do it! Out of all the swimming events I have taken part in, the Scilly Swim challenge is by far the friendliest, most beautiful and above all has the best safety support of any other. I hope to come back year after year and hope my family and friends will continue to join me.