A successful Harrogate author, blogger, mum and open air swimmer with the moniker Openwaterwoman’ has fulfilled her pledge to swim Lake Windermere to raise funds for the hospice that offered “amazing care” for a close friend in her final days.
The epic 21-mile charity swim took 14 hours to complete by ‘fortysomething’ Jacqui Hargrave whose blog on her exploits called ‘Openwaterwoman’ now has more than 262,000 readers worldwide.
Since she first took up outdoor swimming in 2013, the intrepid Jacqui has survived run-ins with huge pike, a stand-off with a swan and being rescued by a boat in a lightening storm.
But for Jacqui, who lives in Knaresborough, swimming the cold waters of Windmere for Saint Michael’s Hospice has been the toughest challenge of all.
“I swam the lake two times, which is the same length as the Channel crossing. I stopped only to feed, whilst treading water. The water temperature was 18.9c.
“It was not only the swim itself but the hours of training involved. A lot of the open water training swims I did were in water temperatures under 15c.
"It was raining, it was cold, and the risk of hypothermia was high. I had to make sure I had a full safety crew at the lakeside every time.”
Jacqui, who worked in the advertising department of the Harrogate Advertiser in her younger days, has not exactly had it easy since she took the plunge in open air swimming.
She’d already successfully completed The Serpentine, the 10k Great North Swim, the 10k Amphibian, the 1 Way Windermere and the Coniston 1 Way, among others, before her friend Jane Birkinshaw suggested she swim Lake Windmere while being cared for at Saint Michael’s Hospice in Harrogate.
Jacqui said: “Jane had breast cancer that then developed secondary cancer in her lungs, and brain.
“She spent the last six weeks of her life being cared for at St Michael’s.
“The team there did everything they could to make Jane’s life as comfortable and happy as it could be.
“She was included in all decision making regarding her care and her thoughts were always considered and taken into account. It was completely bespoke and personal to her.
"Nothing was too much trouble for them, and they allowed us, her family and friends, to have have some really happy memories there, despite the inevitable outcome.
"Whilst she was alive she asked if I would do some fundraising on her behalf, as a thank you to the hospice, and after mulling over several ideas, we eventually came up with the 2 Way Windermere swim.”
Jacqui has dedicated a chapter of her new book to Jane. Marvellous Middle Aged Me is the witty and honest follow-up to Open Water Woman Swims Windermere, which sold thousands of copies on Amazon.
The down-to-earth Jacqui, who has raised £4,000 for Saint Michael’s Hospice, believes it is her honest and light-hearted approach to writing which has won her so many readers.
Writing on a laptop at home, she makes no attempt to ‘dress up’ her life and adventures.
Jacqui said: “Readers tell me what I write it relatable, as well as entertaining.
“One of the hardest things about open air swimming is actually trying to get out of the water with a small amount of elegance. I’ve yet to achieve it.”