A swimming sensation grandma has achieved a record after swimming the length of the longest lake in England – all whilst raising more than £1,000 for St Catherine’s Hospice in memory of her friend.
Maggie Armitt, from Hoghton, became a keen open water swimmer in 2013, after taking up the hobby to help her recover from breaking her ankle and damaging her knee in a motorbike accident.
Now, she holds the record for the fastest ‘Women Vet 60’ in the 11-mile Windermere One Way challenge, since the event started in 2014. Maggie completed the six-hour swim to support St Catherine’s in honour of her ‘dear friend’ John Nickson, who worked as a fundraiser for the Lostock Hall charity for 20 years and was cared for on the hospice’s inpatient unit in September last year.
Maggie, a grandma-of-three who also enjoys playing tennis and cycling, walking and doing agility with her dog, said: “After the accident I plucked up the courage to start training with the Tri Preston group at Nuffield gym three times a week, and began to improve my stamina and technique.
“I was fine with pool swimming and friends suggested I have a go at an open water event. We are so lucky living close to the Lake District so I entered the Great North Swim in 2013 and swam the mile. From then on I was hooked and swam in the Epic Swims series in Coniston, Derwentwater and Ullswater. I then decided if I was getting up early to get wet and cold I might as well swim for longer, so I did the Chillswim Coniston which is 5.25 miles in 2015, followed by Buttermere Open Water Swim which is 10k, and The Big Welsh Swim this year in Llyn Padarn, which has been my favourite.
“I decided I was obviously a tug boat rather than a speed boat when it came to swimming, and wondered if a ‘mad nanny’ of 60 could swim the longest lake in England! I entered fairly quickly after my 60th birthday in November last year.
“The training was hard with early morning starts and more outdoor swims in Eccleston Delph and Capernwray in the Lake District. I began to feel like the character Dory in ‘Finding Nemo’ because I spent so much time in the pool singing ‘just keep swimming!’
“From May onwards I was swimming five or six days a week and even twice a day as the time got nearer. I had a few wobbles along the way and had a crisis of confidence once or twice, but I had a lot of encouragement from friends and my husband Paul, who is my chief supporter.”
Maggie, a retired PE teacher who now works part time in credit control for Paul’s business, added: “September 2 eventually arrived; it was a misty morning but it wasn’t raining and luckily there was no wind, which means no waves!
“I was up at 5am and set off on the swim at about 7.40am. I felt relaxed and just glad to be on my way. You need a safety paddler to accompany you on the day, and my good friend Jo Lowrey offered to do this for me. We had a plan to drink and take an energy gel every hour so I was feeling good – there’s also a compulsory check in half way near Belle Isle for a quick break.
“At about eight miles I did begin to feel cold and I seemed to have strained my left bicep but I pushed it out of my mind and kept going. Once the end was in sight my only concern was how to get out of the water without falling over and looking like a beached whale! Thankfully there was a nice man at the finish to keep me upright and I didn’t feel too sick; probably thanks to the motion sickness tablet I’d taken.
“There were lots of hugs and kisses and hot tea. I’d hoped to be finished in seven hours so I was amazed to discover I’d done it in six hours and four minutes – I was so chuffed, I couldn’t stop smiling!
“It was a day to remember for sure, and I’m looking forward to some new challenges next year such as the Great Scottish Swim in Loch Lomond, and a weekend of swimming all the west lakes in the Lake District.”
Maggie and Paul were friends with John and his wife Maureen through The Hall Players amateur dramatic society in Preston, and Maggie fondly recalls many happy hours watching the three friends perform on stage.
Speaking about St Catherine’s, where John worked between 1990 and 2010 where he was affectionately known as ‘Mr Hospice’ thanks to his creative and enthusiastic fundraising efforts, Maggie said: “St Catherine’s has always been an important charity to me. We visited regularly in the last weeks of John’s life and I will always remember how everyone filled his room with laughter.
“He always thought I was a bit mad, putting on a rubber suit and plunging into cold water, so in the time it took me to swim the 11 miles of the Windermere One Way challenge, I spent the time thinking about him and other special people in my life.”
Hayley Jackson, community engagement officer at St Catherine’s Hospice, said: “What an incredible achievement for Maggie to complete this gruelling swim for St Catherine’s in tribute of John, who was so well respected and loved by the whole St Catherine’s community.
“We’d like to say a very special ‘thank you’ to Maggie for her amazing efforts and support – not only in taking part in the challenge, but for all of the training she had to go through, and all of the sponsorship she has collected; donating a fantastic £1,005.
“We’re so grateful to people like Maggie who help us raise a staggering £3.7million of our annual £5.4million running costs every year – we simply couldn’t continue to offer our specialist palliative and end-of-life care to local people without such wonderful support and determination from our communities!”