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Minreet Kaur takes a selfie on the beach




Taking the Plunge at Swim Serpentine

After recently discovering a love for open water swimming – Minreet Kaur describes her journey and the benefits of the sport ahead of next month’s Swim Serpentine.

Award-winning journalist Minreet Kaur decided to take on her first open water swimming challenge at Swim Serpentine on Saturday 16 September in a bid to overcome her fear of the open water and encourage more South Asian women to get their feet wet.

Minreet, 42, became a swimming teacher after lockdown to help elderly South Asian women in the pool and break down the taboos and barriers to the sport amongst the community.

She said: “The barriers facing South Asian women is mostly showing skin, fear of water and lack of confidence as they don’t feel comfortable in showing skin. I want to change this perception by showing we should feel comfortable in swimwear and not be afraid of what others think and that swimming is a sport for everyone. We shouldn’t feel we can’t do it, we can, as I only really started in my 40’s.”

The move eventually spurred her on her own journey towards open water swimming – which has opened her eyes to the numerous advantages of the sport.

She said: “I got into it (open water swimming) after becoming a swimming teacher and realising just how many women like me are afraid of water. I wanted to challenge myself and take the next step from pool to the lake, so I did with my mum my support, and I loved it. It’s the best feeling ever.”

Minreet’s parents have been a huge source of inspiration for her active lifestyle since she turned 40. Her father, the ‘Skipping Sikh’ became well-known over lockdown for his exercise videos and fundraising, and her mother ‘Hula-hoop Kaur’ took up hula-hooping in her 70s and has been spreading her fitness message in schools. The family ran the TCS London Marathon together in April and enjoy exercising together.

She said: “My mum’s 72 and told me to go for it (open water swimming), because if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. It was always something that I was scared to do. My parents are amazing, my inspiration and seeing them in their 70’s run the London Marathon really inspired me. I hope that we can do a mile swim together one day!”

So far, there have been a few choppy challenges to confront. During her training, Minreet has struggled to get used to the cold-water temperatures and placing her face in the water.

“This definitely is my biggest fear. I find it hard doing front crawl as your face is constantly in water. I am trying my hardest to overcome this through swimming training, and I hope on the day I don’t feel scared, but it’s really hard as I am a strong breaststroke swimmer! Front crawl isn’t easy,” she said.

But she’s gaining confidence each day and recently faced a dangerous riptide in the sea at West Wittering head on.

She said: “It was hard to swim in. It did scare me, but it also enabled me to build my confidence and to say I did it!”

These experiences haven’t deterred her and discovering the benefits of open water swimming has kept her going.

“Cold water is so good for you. I felt better for swimming in open water. It made a big difference to my overall wellbeing and mental health. It’s also so nice to be in nature, see the sky, birds etc…it’s just so refreshing! It helps me feel awake, rejuvenated, energised and it’s good for my mental health,” she said.

She’s hoping the Swim Serpentine challenge will be a good taster of the English Channel relay swim she plans to do in September.

“Swim Serpentine will help prepare me as we’ll be swimming about three miles of the Channel between us, so doing one mile at Serpentine and seeing how I feel will give me a very good idea of how it will be in the Channel,” she added.

Her final advice for anyone who is hesitating about trying open water swimming is: “Once you get into open water you won’t look back. Always wear a wetsuit and a tow float and try and go with a few friends to try it. Have fun, stay safe and enjoy it. You’ll come out feeling a new person!”