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Meet some of the inspiring participants taking part in 2023 Swim Serpentine

Meet some of the inspiring participants taking part in 2023 Swim Serpentine

  • Thousands of participants taking part in Swim Serpentine on Saturday 16 September for inspiring and personal reasons 
  • Giles Taylor was diagnosed as paralysed in 2019 but is now preparing to complete his London Classics challenge 
  • Nina Farrell swimming for Harry’s HAT to mark two-year anniversary of her son’s lifesaving neurosurgery 
  • Sarah Tizzard to act as guide-swimmer for blind friend Eros on her 51st birthday, despite only learning to swim in 2022 

More than 6,000 participants are set to take part in the 2023 edition of Swim Serpentine, London’s hugely popular festival of open water swimming, on Saturday 16 September. Swimmers will take on a variety of distances in Hyde Park’s famous Serpentine lake, ranging from half a mile to six miles. 

Every participant has their own reason for taking the plunge, whether it’s to experience the unique feeling of open water swimming, raise funds for a cause close to their heart, or to complete their London Classics challenge. 

Below are a selection of inspiring stories from some of the participants taking part in this year’s Swim Serpentine:

Giles Taylor, 27, from Exeter

In 2019, Giles was paralysed from the neck down after diving into a swimming pool he thought was deeper than it was.

Giles's friends rescued him from the water and rushed him to hospital, where doctors said they were unsure if he would ever walk again. After five months in hospital, Giles slowly started to relearn how to move his arms and legs. He made amazing progress, from just being able to sit again to walking before, eventually, he was able to run once more.

To celebrate his returned mobility, he took on the 2021 London Marathon. Invigorated by his success, he continued to take on challenges including, in 2023, completing the Ford RideLondon-Essex 100 and the Three Peaks challenge. Now he has set his sights on Swim Serpentine to complete his London Classics.

Nina Farrell, 49, from London

In August 2021, just after his 13th birthday, Nina’s son Maxim had emergency neurosurgery (ETV) for communicating hydrocephalus – a build-up of fluid in the brain. The illness came unexpectedly and quickly escalated, and scans suggested that Maxim could have been living with the condition since birth. 

Nina believes that had they been more aware of the condition, they might have been able to spot the warning signs earlier.

She said: “Although they were the most terrifying and traumatic days of our lives, we were so thankful to be in such excellent care. It was such a shock and completely terrifying. We didn’t really have much time to process any of it.”

After spending six days at Kings College Hospital in London, Maxim recovered well and within a month returned to school. “The first year of recovery was incredibly challenging for us all – as parents we had to find this impossible balance of care and concern for our child but without restricting his growth and freedom as a teenager,” said Nina. "As well as dealing with the trauma of what had happened to him.”

Now, Nina takes Maxim for annual check-ups and life is, for the most part, back to normal. To mark the second anniversary of Maxim’s surgery and inspired by her son’s ‘heroic and inspiring attitude toward life’, Nina is swimming one mile at Swim Serpentine for Harry’s Hydrocephalus Awareness Trust (Harry’s HAT), a charity which raises awareness about Hydrocephalus. Maxim and the rest of their family will be cheering Nina on as she makes her way around the famous lake.

Sarah Tizzard, 50, and Eros Adamides, 39, both from London

Eros is registered blind but that does not prevent him from taking on and completing sporting challenges, where he is joined by his friend, Sarah, who acts as his guide.

Together, the duo have completed marathons, tandem bike rides and more. Having previously completed both the London Marathon and the RideLondon 100 bike ride, the pair are now aiming to complete the two-mile distance at Swim Serpentine to achieve their London Classics medals together on the day of Sarah’s 51st birthday.

Swim Serpentine will prove to be the most difficult event yet for Sarah to act as Eros’s guide, however, as she could not swim until last year when she started learning, so she and Eros could complete the London Classics challenge.

Jessica Denny, 26, from London

Jessica lost her mother, Yvonne, in 2018 to a heart attack when Yvonne was 45 and Jessica was just 18.

The experience was a big shock and exercise became a way for Jessica to support her wellbeing, helping her through the shock of her mother’s death. She said: “The more I ran, the better I felt.”

In May 2020, the same month her mum would have turned 50, Jessica entered the London Marathon in her mother’s memory. Completing the marathon made her feel incredible and she found herself seeking new challenges to replicate that feeling. 

She’s since completed the Ford RideLondon-Essex 100 and is now turning to Swim Serpentine to hopefully achieve her London Classics medal. A self-proclaimed “relatively novice swimmer”, the two-mile distance will be a challenge, but Jessica has found that cold water swimming helps her mind and body, and she thanks the determination her mother instilled her with for her ability to keep taking on these challenges.

Gary Reilly, 43, from London

Gary’s daughter Grace Martha was stillborn in 2012. Following his loss, Gary decided to honour Grace's memory by taking on challenges fundraising for a baby loss charity.

He started his challenges with RideLondon, fundraising for Tommy’s, and upon completing it felt he could go further, so set his sights on the London Classics.

Swim Serpentine will be his final event in his London Classics challenge, where he will be fundraising for the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS) in memory of Grace.

The 2023 Swim Serpentine event takes place on Saturday 16 September, with participants taking on a range of distances from half a mile to six miles. The event, which is totally sold out, begins at 08:10 and the last wave sets off at 16:35.