Beth French is an Ultra-Marathon Swimmer and environmentalist who had a dream to, ‘walk into the water and swim until I reached another country.’
Wheelchair-bound at 17 years old with M.E. Beth has since become the First Woman (the first person in fact) to have swum from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly.
Making more than good on her childhood dream, Beth has swum the English Channel, the Molokai Channnel in Hawaii and is about to embark on an extraordinary feat for 2016: seven channels in a year – without a wetsuit or physical assistance.
First Women discovers how a young girl who was once told that ‘women are not meant to be ambitious,’ became one of the most inspirational extreme swimmers in the world.
‘Being a single mum is what prompted me to start Channel Swimming’
But obviously, people assumed it would prevent me! As a child, I wasn’t taught to follow my dreams. What I wanted to teach my son is that making your dreams a reality is what makes the world a better place and breeds inspiration. Yes, I’m a self-employed single mum and could easily have crumbled. Instead, I chose to show Dylan that it is possible and important to manifest your dreams – whatever else is going on.
‘Apparent blocks can simply be highlighting a different way to the same goal’
Before motherhood you juggle work, social life and hobbies. After a baby it can be easy to drop the lot. Yes, Dylan is now my North – but North isn’t only the direction. It simply helps me make better sense of the map of my life.
‘The alleged male-only ability to ‘compartmentalise’ is a safety valve that I can’t afford to believe I don’t have as a woman’
We’re told that men are traditionally good at compartmentalising and women are better at networking. I can do both – so can most of us, despite what society tells us about gender. Being able to shelve something until I can manage it has saved my sanity for years.
‘My femaleness is a useful guide when it comes to wellness’
It’s commonplace for female endurance athletes to lose their natural cycle as their bodies strive to conserve nutrients. I use my cycle as a mirror in which to view my overall health. As long as I stay cyclic, I know I haven’t pushed myself too far.
‘Women are not supposed to be ambitious’
This is what I grew up hearing. I love my family but to be feminine was not to excel particularly. Drive was considered unattractive. I was told to keep what I loved as a hobby. I rejected a massive piece of parenting when I swam the Channel but it made me stronger in my personal conviction that I do not need anyone’s approval to be me.
‘Swimming to France felt like 15 years of psychotherapy in 24 hours’
On a swim of that length, you deconstruct your personality and scour out what stops you growing – and that includes social programming. As humans we have bottomless strength and it’s the programming that gets in the way. On big swims, there’s a continual stripping. It’s asking, ‘what can I let go of to move forward?’
‘My First allowed me to come into a different relationship with my body’
When I embark on swim training I know I’ll be putting on weight. Society has made this such a taboo for women. I came into a healthier relationship with my body by accepting that it’s not here to be looked at prettily and fit fashionable clothes! My body’s job is to endure in 7 degree water. And I absolutely relish feeling it’s strength and capabilities.
‘A healthy drive is not necessarily a linear drive’
Swimming is where the world makes sense to me. It’s not torturous to push yourself, as long as you continue to flow in an organic way. It’s only when you restrict yourself to a straight line that things can turn into an unhealthy obsession. If you love your endeavour it becomes effortless – and feeds you too.
‘The biggest gift of my first?’
Finally accepting that responsibility for my own happiness is mine and mine alone. The whole swim process demands that I understand that what I am doing is enough for me. It is simply a bonus that others find it valuable. This was such a freeing realisation.
Beth French is an Ultra Marathon Swimmer and Environmentalist and First Woman to swim from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly
To find out more about First Woman Beth French, visit: www.bethfrench.co.uk
Follow Beth and her 7 Channels adventure on Twitter:@bethsbigswim
Interview by Deborah Willimott