A dedicated Harborough district swimmer who defeated cancer just months after tragically losing her sister to the disease is urging people to sign up for an iconic fundraising event.
But the nationwide campaign had to be cancelled as the country’s first Covid-19 lockdown was imposed.
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Now Sheelagh, of Gilmorton, near Lutterworth, is gearing up to make a real splash as the world’s largest annual swimming fundraiser gets under way in September.
And she is urging others to join her to help tackle the devastating loss of charity funding caused by Covid-19.
Organisers are celebrating a ‘festival of swimming’ from September 10-12 with pool and open water Swimathon events taking place on the same weekend for the first time at venues across the UK.
People can participate individually or as part of a team.
And if swimmers can’t make one of the organised sessions, they can sign up to MySwimathon, which takes place from September 3-19 - and choose a time and venue that suits them.
Sheelagh swam to keep fit and recover her strength after her treatment ended in 2003.
She’s now determined to highlight the positive power of swimming for individuals and charities.
“Swimming helped me feel stronger again after the toughest period of my life,” said Sheelagh.
“Not being able to go in the water was hard during lockdown as it really helps to clear my head.
“So now I’m really enjoying being back in the pool and having a goal to focus on.”
Sheelagh had to undergo a radical hysterectomy when she was 39 after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in January 2003.
The diagnosis was particularly poignant because her sister Alison, 43, had died of breast cancer just months earlier, in September 2002, leaving behind a six-year-old daughter Amy.
“It was difficult to get my head around it all because I never really felt ill.
“I went off the rails a bit, smoking, partying and spending money.
“I thought I was trying to make the most of life but, looking back, it was survivor guilt,” admitted Sheelagh.
“Alison died even though she was fit and looked after herself well.
“Yet here I was throwing my life away.
“I needed structure and a reason to get up in the morning - so I became goal-orientated and lost three stone in two years.
“I want to take part in Swimathon because it’s a great way for me to focus on my fitness while raising funds in Alison’s memory.
“She loved swimming and was a county champion in her youth.
“If sharing my story can help one more person either check themselves, go for screening or sign up to Swimathon to raise vital funds, then it will be worth it.”
The Swimathon Festival offers a whole range of distances for all ages and abilities – from 400m, up to a Triple 5k, and a new 30.9k option.
“Swimathon is such a fun and simple way to encourage people to dip their toe in the water and get swimming - all while supporting two incredible charities,” added Sheelagh.
“It really doesn’t matter if you’re not the fittest or the fastest.
“I hope swimmers young and old, new and experienced will dive in and help thousands of families across the UK.”
Swimathon has raised more than a staggering £55 million for charities since being launched in 1986.
This year will also see the Swimathon Foundation donate £2.50 from every entry fee to help protect pools and venues for the future amid the shattering impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Paula Young, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Leicestershire, said: “We’d like to thank Sheelagh for her unwavering support.
“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime.
“All of us can support the research that will beat it.
“Moderate exercise such as swimming can also help build stamina, burn calories and keep a healthy body weight, which reduces the risk of a range of diseases including cancer,” she added.
“Swimming regularly is also gentle on the joints, can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression and improve sleep patterns.
“So we hope everyone will grab their caps and costumes and sign up now to help us keep making transformative steps in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”
Mark Winton, Head of Community Fundraising at Marie Curie, said: “We’re so excited that pools have re-opened and people can once again take the plunge and make a splash while helping raise vital donations.
“At Marie Curie, we rely on the support of the amazing public to ensure our nurses can keep caring for people at the end of their lives and that grieving people in the UK can get the care and support they need. “Every penny raised helps us make a difference to the end of life care people in the UK receive.”
Sign up to the Swimathon Festival 2021 at https://swimathon.org