Walking away from a world first, record setting, career defining project is not something most people would contemplate, or find easy. Adventure- and even more so, sport can be a driven world- the strength we are taught to practice is the strength to keep going. Never, ever, ever give up. Success is built on these foundations, and it is celebrated that if you just keep going, you’ll get there eventually. But water and swimming have taught me so much about strength- about the strength needed to keep going which is often disguised as the strength to let go of what is holding you back.
And there is an even more fragile, delicate form of strength. One that is murmured about in hushed tones in darkened corners- or not talked of at all. It is one i am coming to recognise as a vital to our mental health and well being. One that we all have yearnings for in many ways. It is the strength to let go completely. To walk away. To listen to yourself, even when all the pressure is on- and ‘success’ is in sight- if something isn’t right anymore, and your goal- your destination - is no longer where you want to end up, then sometimes, just sometimes, knowing when to stop is your lesson for that day.
It is something I use more now in my daily life- it is a precious gift, and takes wisdom to know when to call it quits. But ending my world first project, in the very swim that would have put me ahead of everyone else ended up being a relief.
To me, channel swimming is about the life lessons picked up along the way: the adventure i am on with my son- teaching him different ways to drive his life forwards. So i got out with the end in sight. I felt completely at peace. I had reached my destination before i reached the end of the line. All the questions i had asked myself that led me to swim the english channel in the first place were finally answered. Yes. I could do this, go more than anyone thought possible. More than I thought possible. I tested my limits and went to find my boundaries. I pushed hard, sought edges and learned when to say enough is enough. 20 years ago i put my self in a wheel chair because i didn't know when or how to stop. I do now, and i am proud to say that i responded to the greater needs in my life. Adventure has given me that- and i am looking forward to getting bitten by the next idea that leads me forward.
I didn’t fall off a cliff, into the pit of despair. I got out with my head high and a smile on my face. I had given it everything i was prepared to- and a whole hell of a lot more- but i was not prepared to sacrifice my son’s wellbeing. I had pushed him to his limit. And found mine. We did not stop adventuring that day, we just recalibrated what was important. And fame and glory, records and reputation were never my MO.
Adventure offers the mind and body a training ground to practice so many valuable life lessons- from healthy eating to mental acuity, emotional resilience and building relationships- most importantly with ourselves. Goals help us focus. Set yourself some.
Beth French will be talking more her story of going from Wheelchair to Endurance Wild Swimmer in Bristol on Thursday 5th July. Find out more.