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Sophie Etheridge - Disabled long distance open water swimmer and the founder of (ADOWS).

Renata Chlumska  - Adventure athlete who became the first Swedish and Czech woman to climb Mount Everest and in 2005 did a circumnavigate of the lower 48 States of the United States by her own power.

Sophie has spent the past 2 years trying to raise awareness of open water swimmers with disabilities in the hope that more people will become inclusive and accepting to people of all abilities.

She has also spent the past year building a community of athletes with disabilities through her ADOWS Facebook group which now has over 600 people in it.

Members include those with all sorts of disabilities from people with invisible conditions such as Fibromyalgia and brain injuries to those with visual impairments and amputees. There are also coaches, event organisers and carers in the group so that they can learn the best way to support and include those with disabilities within their work.

Since starting the group Sophie has worked with The Henley Swim Company and The British Long Distance Swimming Association to help them improve accessibility at their events.

Sophie grew up in Hastings and was an active, fully able-bodied swimmer but in 2011 she was involved in a cycling accident, which resulted in a long diagnostic process before finally being diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome; one of the most painful conditions in the world in late 2012.

Suddenly finding herself struggling to walk and in constant pain was tough. She struggled with being constantly exhausted and to put the cherry on the top; due to hypersensitivity she was unable to wear trousers or leave the house if it was windy because it was too painful for her.

Triathlete to wheelchair user in under a year.

It took several years of struggling with different medications, physiotherapy appointments, hospital stays and falling into a deep depression before she was sent onto a pain management programme. The course was intensive for 3 weeks but in total lasted a year and it was as a result of this course that Sophie rediscovered her love of the water.

It wasn’t an easy journey back into the water because anything on her legs hurt – including water!

It was about 6 months before she could get in the local leisure centre pool and start swimming again but as soon as she did she knew it was where she was meant to be.

Since then (2016) she has gone on to not only get back into open water swimming but has taken on some huge swims including The Great East Swim 1 mile (2016) and 5km (2019), The Thames Marathon Swim (2018), 10km in lake Tallyn in Wales (2019), the Swim England Open Water National Championships (2019) and finally, in September 2021 Two Way Windermere, which she completed in 16 hours and 41 minutes!

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Show notes

  • Who is Sophie

  • Growing up in Hastings

  • How she got into swimming

  • Doing her first 5k at the age of 11

  • Being disqualified from her first swimming gala

  • Playing music in an orchestra

  • Wanting to be a sports physiotherapist

  • Choosing between music and sports or physical education

  • Being diagnosed with epilepsy as a child

  • Playing clarinet and piano as her way to relax

  • Studying music at Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge

  • Going to university and swimming at the same time

  • Joining a local triathlon club

  • Before and after the accident

  • Being diagnosed with Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

  • Being on her own while in the middle of her degree

  • From being active to absolutely nothing

  • Feeling all her plans are out of reach

  • Being away from her family

  • Experiencing bullying at university

  • Feeling lost for about five years

  • Being put on a pain management program at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge

  • Getting back into the water and tolerating the pain

  • Falling in love with swimming again

  • Wanting to be a swimming coach again

  • Getting her level two open water coaching qualification

  • Getting help from Straight Line Swimming run by Keri-anne Payne

  • Feeling herself again after 8 years

  • Campaigning for disabled swimmers

  • Creating the community Adaptive/Disabled Open Water Swimmers (ADOWS)

  • Magical moments for her when it comes to swimming

  • Making so many new friends through swimming

  • Doing the Aberdovey Swim in 2019

  • Her plans to do the Two-Way Windermere (2WW) in 2020

  • Using Windermere swim to raise awareness and fundraise for a disability sports charity The Arctic One

  • Having surgery before her two-way swim

  • Pushing through the challenge

  • Her whole experience while doing the Windermere swim

  • Her top tips and advice


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