Having been forced to shield throughout the coronavirus pandemic, opportunities to swim competitively have been few and far between for members of the Transplant Sport Swimming Club in the past two years.
However, they were in action for the first time since 2019 as a team at the recent Staffordshire Masters – and they admitted it was wonderful to be back.
Here they share their stories and what it meant to be back as a club.
World record holder Jodie Cox summed it up perfectly when describing how it felt to be swimming with her Transplant Sport Swimming Club team-mates at the Staffordshire Masters once again.
“It was a great meet with a friendly and fun atmosphere,” said Jodie, who is a British transplant athlete and set the world’s best times in the 50m Freestyle plus 50m and 100 Breaststroke at the World Transplant Games.
“It was lovely to have the team competing together again after what has been a difficult couple of years.”
A ‘difficult couple of years’ is an understatement for members of the club.
While the pandemic has been an extremely tough time for all of us, club member Sue Bennett explained the true impact it’s had on the team.
“It has been incredibly hard shielding for the last two years,” she said. “Initially, when shielding was introduced, we were advised not to leave the home at all and to open a window if we required fresh air.
“The advice was to sleep and eat in a separate room to even our own household members.
“We are a close-knit community and it has been an incredibly isolating and stressful time for many people.”
However, they found ingenious ways to keep ‘swimming’ and stuck together as team-mates to ensure they were there for one another – even though they couldn’t meet face-to-face.
“Despite coming from all over the country, we continued to offer support and advice to each other,” Sue said. “The swim team held regular Zoom team nights and games to keep our spirits up.
“I used to practice my swim stroke sat on a chair in front of a mirror.
“Once we were given the advice we could go out to exercise alone or with one other person, I would swim at my local lake which dedicated an hour’s slot to those shielding.
“It was very moving swimming in a lake with others who were shielding. There was an unspoken understanding between us.
“To swim at the Stafford Masters felt wonderful to be back among our transplant community.
“We are a very unique team of athletes all with a different story to tell but brought together by organ donation which has given us a very strong bond.
“At poolside, we are always the most vocal, willing our team-mates through the water.
“Many people are under the impression that a transplant is a cure but that it is a misunderstanding and, for most of us, it is not the case.
“It’s a treatment, sometimes a temporary treatment. We are all immune suppressed and often quietly battle with long-term health difficulties. ”
Be the best they can be
That doesn’t prevent the team from performing when it comes to the pool, however.
At the Stafford Leisure Center, the 13-strong team won an impressive 20 gold, eight silver and six bronze individual medals – while they also collected a further three golds and one silver in the relay events.
Liam Barnett, Transplant Sport Swimming Club’s men’s team manager, said: “It was a fantastic day and a great opportunity to finally come together and compete at such a great venue.”
The team is now training for the British Transplant Games which take place in Leeds from 28-31 July – and many will be representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the 2023 World Transplant Games in Perth, Australia.
And while they will be determined to succeed for themselves and their team, there is also another unique force driving them on.
“Every swimmer and athlete competes to be the best they can be,” added Sue.
“But a transplant recipient is also competing for their donors and those who loved them.”