‘I think this stuck hard with me after he died…’- Stephen’s Story
When we saw that Little Hearts Matter wanted people to take part in the Big Hearted Swimathon challenge, we looked at it and thought this could be the perfect way back into the swimming pool and we could do something positive in our little boy’s memory to raise money for a good cause.
We lost our beautiful, funny, and very brave 4 year old little boy Sean in 2012 through complications following his fontan surgery. Our lives were completely broken and felt that they just stopped. One of Sean’s favourite activities was swimming, I took him every week to swim in my friend’s hydro therapy pool, it was warm so he never got cold and in staying warm he did not get so tired. He was Spiderman doing the biggest jumps in; he swam about freely, relaxed on inflatable rings, he was so confident and really enjoyed this time.
In hospital when he was very poorly he said to us he would never swim again, we tried to be brave and told him one day when he was better he would of course go swimming again. I think this stuck hard with me after he died, the guilt I felt at the thought of ever getting back in the swimming pool without him was so overwhelming I avoided the pool at all cost.
In the summer of 2014 I knew that as my little girl was starting school she would be doing swimming lessons and somehow I had to face the prospect of going back into the swimming pool. Sean’s swimming teacher very kindly offered to take me back into the building at a quiet time to sit and reflect and help me overcome the fear of going back in. I had my tears on pool side and slowly it felt OK and some normality around my daughter going for her lessons was established, but I myself could still not bring myself to get back in the water.
In early summer 2015 when I saw the flyer for the Big Hearted Swimathon I knew this could be the way back into the pool; I would do it for Sean. Then I had the dilemma of seeing that in order to swim the channel I would actually need to complete 1,416 lengths of the 25 meter pool. I’m not the strongest of swimmers at all so this seemed like an impossible task so one evening I put a little status on my Facebook just exploring the idea with my friends of having one or two volunteers to help me complete the lengths. I did not expect what happened next at all and I was completely overwhelmed by the responses from people. My daughter Emily and I had decided we were going to do this together for Sean and she to put a status on her Facebook and before we knew it we had 22 Adults, 15 teen friends of Emily’s and 28 children volunteering to swim some lengths. Many of the children were friends of Sean’s from his class at school which was incredibly heart-warming to us. Everyone was so keen to take part in the Swimathon.
This was amazing, but how were we going to manage to keep track of how many lengths people were doing and bring this number together in order to know when we had reached the 1,416 lengths? The sport centre very kindly agreed to put a file on the front desk and everyone who came into swim would record their lengths. Even kinder though they said everyone who was swimming for Sean could swim for free.
Team Sean was created and our local paper were keen to run the story and follow our progress. This was great as we were also raising much needed awareness for a very important charity and so a very kind photographer came out and took a lovely photo of some of Team Sean for the launch of “Swim for Sean”.
On the 1st June 2015 I climbed in to the pool and started to swim, it was quite an emotional moment but so quiet and relaxing I actually enjoyed my first swim, surprising myself at swimming 40 lengths and knowing it was all for Sean.
Miraculously within the first 3 days Team Sean had completed the first channel swim which completely shocked me as we still had 12 weeks to do this over. Credit to everyone they simply carried on going and several of Team Sean swimmers, including Emily and myself, decided actually we would set our own personal challenges to attempt the full 1,416 lengths. When we worked it out we needed to swim 118 lengths per week over the 12 weeks we realised this was achievable and that is what we did.
In order to promote our “Swim for Sean” charity challenge we set up a just giving page through Virgin and set up a face book event page to keep all our followers and sponsors updated on our progress. Team Sean swam an unbelievable 23.852 lengths actually crossing the channel an incredible 16 times.
On the final day of the swim the sports centre kindly allowed us to hire the pool for free so those of Team Sean who needed to could complete their lengths or just do a few more to add to their own personal targets. We had a really lovely swim. We had some Team Sean cupcakes made for everyone after as a way of saying thank you. We certainly had an incredible experience and raised over £3,000 with gift aid for Little Hearts Matter. Team Sean were fantastic.
If you are thinking because you are not a strong swimmer you could not do this challenge, think again. If you break the lengths down over the 12 weeks its very achievable, and even better if you can rope in some of your friends and family, you will get fit, feel a real sense of achievement, raise money for a very worth while charity and above all have lots of fun. Good luck!
Written by Sean Turner (2016)