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On Wednesday 14th October St Ives Leisure Centre reopened after 6 months of closure.   Our lovely swimmer Sarah shares with us her personal story about how she has made a welcome return to swimming and how she has dealt admirably with anxiety to get back to what she loves.

This is Sarah's story and we hope that it will give others the confidence they may need to get back into their fitness routines which are so important to us all.

Driving to the leisure centre, my heart races and I’m not even sure if I’m breathing whilst I drive on auto pilot. I’m tense, I’m gripping the steering wheel tightly and I’m panicking about what lies ahead.  

I’m fighting with my anxiety right now, you see I love swimming! I’m not fast and my strokes are a bit messy, but it’s time for me and that’s precious when you have a busy family and work full time. I have long awaited our leisure centre reopening, I know that swimming will be good for my anxiety and my social anxiety has, in line with the pandemic, stopped me doing so much, I must not let it take this away from me too.  

On arrival at the leisure centre I stand by the window of the pool, looking in trying to work out how this ‘new’ system will work! I see someone else heading towards the door, now’s my chance, I’ll sneak in behind them to watch how it’s done! Heading towards the front door I put on my mask...I can’t see because my glasses have steamed up, I can feel my hands shaking. 

I’m wishing there to be a smiling member of staff at the desk to meet me and explain things to me. I worry that there will be no one there to help me. I hope that if someone is there that they are friendly, I hope they aren’t dismissive of my concerns, should I even ask the questions that are whirling through my head? Then I decide if they are aren’t friendly, I just won’t come back, I’ll cancel my membership and just stop swimming…maybe I shouldn’t have come anyway!  

Phew, someone’s there to help me, they smile though their visor, I feel the tension in my shoulders loosen a little. The member of staff explains the new system to me, he shows me how to scan in using the app and off I go...  

Walking through where I would normally take my shoes off I see there are no chairs, hmmm am I still meant to take my shoes off or can I walk into the pool area with them on? They are clean…but no I’ll take them off because I don’t want someone to tell me I’m doing wrong.  

Following the one-way stickers on the ground I can see that some cubicles have ticks on them and some crosses clearly showing which ones I could use but before I arrived I wasn’t sure if they would be open so I’ve come prepared with my swimming costume under my clothes so I’ll strip pool side.  

I leave my items on the wall while I shower, the showers have ticks or crosses on again clearing showing which ones I can use. I then grab my bag and head over to the window where I find tick stickers dotted along the wall, I’ve already been told that this is where I leave my bag while I swim.  

I’m nervous at first, I feel like I’m being watched and judged but then I realised that everyone is far more interested in what they are doing and no one is watching me. After a few minutes I relax into my swim and I let the water support me and my anxiety.  

When it’s time to get out I feel more prepared because not only did the team member on reception explain things to me, I have also carefully watched how other people get out of the pool, collect their bags and walk up along with windows to the deep end then round to the cubicles and showers, which again have ticks and crosses on them and then out of the fire escape…I’ve got this!  

I have a spring in my step because not only did I have a lovely swim before work but I did something I have not done for months, something that was so easy before my anxiety got a grip. I overcame my fears and for that I am proud. I immediately booked for the next morning knowing that I might struggle but that it's ok, the leisure centre is geared up for this new normal and I can take it one swim at a time. 

The next time was little easier, I allow myself a more time to look up and around, I read of the signage and understand a more.  I feel braver and more prepared. Today my anxiety seems to have got in the water with me and I realise that some days I will swim through my anxiety and other days I will fill my goggles with tears. But again, I take away the positive that I did it and i'll do it again!