Artist from Kent swims England’s second-longest lake for children’s hospice

Artist Adie Parker, who lives in Kent, set herself one epic challenge and ended up completing another – raising £3,000 for children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House in the process. When her original plan to cycle 450km through Sri Lanka was stymied, first because of Covid and then due to political unrest in the country, friends and family had already pledged money, and Adie didn’t want to let them down.

That’s when Adie, who was already a dedicated swimmer, thought of doing something in the water. She’d done the Chillswim event at Coniston before but when someone suggested Chillswim at Ullswater, the second largest expanse of water in the Lake District, “I laughed, because at 7.5 miles end to end, it just seemed ridiculously long.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I’m not a runner. I didn’t want to climb any peaks. I didn’t want to train for a cycling event in the UK because of the weather. I thought if it rains, which it certainly did, at least I’ll be wet anyway.”

Adie has been swimming in the same pool for more than 20 years and has a close-knit group of friends formed through her hobby. One of them had done the event before and was keen to better his time, so he signed up too.

With almost a year to train, Adie started by swimming around two miles twice a week. “Every time there was an opportunity, I would swim. But I also tried to do things that were more supportive of my swimming stroke. My Pilates instructor helped put together a programme to strengthen my back and arms. It was an all-over thing – I had to fit it into my personal life, my work life and all the other things that I do.

“As I got closer to the event, I increased my swims to three times a week and started to do one very long (5-6km) swim every week as well. I tried to stay level-headed about it. Rest days are just as important as the training days, so if I did a long swim, I would have two days off after that.”

After training for so long, Adie felt ready for her challenge and keen to get in the water. But the Cumbrian weather had other ideas: “On the Wednesday night, I was doing an art demonstration before driving up to Ullswater on the Thursday morning,” says Adie. “And just before the demo, we got an email saying they might have to change the event because the weather forecast was so bad.

“I went up to the event not knowing if I was even going to do it. The rain started on the Friday afternoon, and I looked at the lake and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so long.’ But on the morning of the event, I felt very calm. I just wanted to get on and do it, for the charity and for myself.”

On the day, there was lots of camaraderie among the swimmers: “Hundreds of people of all different sizes, shapes and ages, all the way from teenagers to 80-year-olds,” says Adie.

The swimmers had to battle gale-force winds and it was very choppy after the four-mile mark, but for Adie the most challenging part of the day was hearing that she would be placed in the second-last wave to set off. “There was a cut-off time and if you hadn’t reached the four-mile mark by quarter past one, they would take you out of the water,” she says.

She need not have worried, managing to finish first for her age group at just under four hours: “I’d say the sixth mile was probably the toughest, that’s when I hit that wall and my body started to feel uncomfortable. But then I reached the seventh mile and saw the giant yellow rubber duck at the finish line. That duck was the best thing I’ve ever seen!

“A few of us actually had a bit of a cry along that half mile because we couldn’t believe we’d done it. You know that your partner, family or friends are waiting for you and it’s quite overwhelming.”

Although Adie wanted to do this challenge for herself – “I turned 50 and thought actually, I can still do this” – doing it for a children’s charity made all the difference to her motivation. “A cousin of mine who lives in South Africa had her two young daughters die of brain tumours caused by the same genetic condition. It was such a devastating, horrible thing to happen: after they lost their first daughter, they had another little girl and they were so delighted. Then, at four years old, she developed the same thing.

“My cousin and her husband have raised a lot of money for charity in South Africa, and I thought, because of her, I would support a charity that works with children. I read about Chestnut Tree House, and that’s how it all started. It later transpired that one of the ladies I swim with has a friend whose grandson has been helped massively by the charity.”

While she plans to focus on her art for the near future, Adie doesn’t think this will be her last charity challenge. “This has been an amazing experience, but it’s not always just about the event itself,” she says. “You meet lots of different people, discover things about yourself and it just opens lots of doors. It’s good to feel alive and challenge yourself at different periods in your life.”

Support Adie