By Jo Gifford
2020. Wow, you were certainly a rollercoaster. I never expected to end the year as a cold water swimmer, dipping in the icy, foggy waters of the Cam on New Years Eve.
Our best lives can really arrive from the unexpected, hey?
I’m Jo. In May 2020 my Dad died.
He had dementia and was in a care home. So, when COVID hit he was a sitting duck, like so many of the vulnerable.
Like hundreds of other families, we couldn’t be with him when he died, and it was one of the cruellest plot twists that the year delivered.
I dealt with grief by drinking (my rum measures were really quite something), professional help, and walking – lots and lots of it, just putting one foot in front of the other in the fields near the river where I live.
Nature seemed so reassuring; whatever chaos was happening in the world, the blossoms still turned to fruit, the leaves still unfurled, the crops still grew, and the river still flowed.
Despite being from this riverside market town in Cambridgeshire, the river itself had never been more to me than a picturesque place to sit near with a coffee or a drink, or perhaps to enjoy a boat day out once a year.
On a hot Summer’s day in 2020 when grief was raging, I suddenly craved the cool waters. Much to the surprise of my partner and one of my daughters, whilst on a walk near a secluded spot I stripped off – totally naked – and went for a swim.
I felt free.
The water seemed to power me up, washing away the sadness, the stress, the fear, the anxiety, the weight, and the grief of the year.
And so it began.
I ventured to the river every day to find my own flow.
I posted my wilding on social media, and more people wanted to join me locally. As the months passed, they suggested we carry on during the Winter.
When a friend of mine began the BlueTits Chill Swimmers Leigh on Sea group, I did my first cold dip with her.
The cold water had a whole new level of exhilarating, stress relieving magic, and I was hooked.
A year on from my first dip, I am now a fully fledged cold water swimmer, co-leading the Cambridgeshire group of the BlueTits.
As I write, we have 600 members also enjoying the magic of the water.
In cold water immersion, I discovered a strength and resilience that I never knew how to access before, certainly not in this way.
I swam through icy, foggy mornings. I swam through the seasons changing, through wild and windy Spring days, and right back into the Summer climes that had called me to the water just a year ago.
Rewilding in the water has anchored me in my home town in a way I could never have imagined. I am on, in, or near the water every day now.
I seek solace there, I have a glorious community of new friends around me who also love to swim, and it’s taking me to new places and new adventures that I never even thought of before.
I have learned to trust the breadcrumbs of things that light me up, even in the darkest of times.
Follow the flow. You never know where it might take you.