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How Wild Swimming Healed Me

Swimming off the coast and in the mountain lakes and rivers of Snowdonia National Park, Laura Sanderson found a solution to her pain. A problem of far greater concern then became apparent, however

There’s no doubting that over the last few years wild swimming has become an increasingly popular activity. For some, you could say it’s more of a lifestyle. Now, thanks to the closure of public spaces throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, participation is well and truly booming. 

For Laura Sanderson, her wild swimming journey began, not as a new lockdown hobby, but as way to mitigate the effects of a long-term condition called fibromyalgia which causes pain throughout the whole body. 

It was following an accident that Laura first became diagnosed with the illness and she soon found herself suffering from constant stiffness in her body, as if she’d aged 70 years in the space of a few months. Eventually her fingernails and toenails began to fall off due to shock. 

Though there is no cure for fibromyalgia yet, Laura was recommended cold showers to help alleviate the pain and swelling in her joints, as she explains to us over an Instagram Live session with us, held in partnership with Hydro Flask

“Because I lived on the coast at the time, I thought I’d just go in the sea rather than stand in a cold shower, so that’s what I did,” says Laura. “Just standing there turning on a blast of cold water is so different from going into the sea or a river. You go in gradually. And the landscape is so beautiful – everywhere has got its own appeal in the UK, there’s so much to do here.”

For Laura,  the soothing results of sea swimming can last for a couple of days, whilst the outcomes of fresh water swimming will be shorter. This, she believes, is largely due to the calming effect of saltwater on the muscles.

“I don’t suffer as badly these days as I used to,” she explains, “but if I do huge challenges then I’ll pay for it a few days later. So, it’s a trade-off. I do something cool, then take a week off.”

Tackling Microplastics

Over the course of these healing trips, an awareness of a different problem gradually developed. That being the effects of plastic pollution on the aquatic safe havens Laura had been discovering. Even some of the remotest of places turned out to be scarred by litter.

Laura is an advocate for Hydro Flask RefillForGood, an initiative to help tackle the problem of single-use plastic.

Publicity from Laura’s efforts to clear up these spots eventually caught the attention of Dr. Christian Dunn at Bangor University and the two of them subsequently joined up to help test and document the hidden effects of plastic pollution on the UK’s waterways together. 

The first place they tested was on Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. “We took samples from what looked like crystal-clear mountain water and then, after running them through the labs, saw all these microplastics,” Laura says. “At that time, there hadn’t been much information out on microplastics, so we really didn’t know there were going to be any in that particular source. Once we found them, we realised it was a bigger problem than we’d expected. A month later, traces were also found in snow in the Alps. Then they started to find it everywhere. Even in the Antarctic.”

What Can Be Done

One way Laura believes we can help to alleviate the current plastic problem is for us all to make small changes ourselves. One such example, she says, could simply be taking a reusable flask such as a Hydro Flask on any adventures instead of picking up a plastic bottle on the journey there. 

But she also says that the individual can only go so far here. “Companies are churning plastic out at faster rates than they’ve ever done before,” she explains. “So I wanted to do something that would hit higher up the chain within the big companies. We plan to lobby the UK Government, because hopefully they’ll put legislation in place. And once legislation is in place, big companies will have to make changes. So, it’s not just cleaning up the places, you know, that’s never gonna fix the problem. It’s all interlinked.”

A Still From Laura’s Film ‘Hydrotherapy’ By Friction Collective

“What we want the government to do is to start testing for microplastics as an emerging contaminant like they do for nitrates and phosphates, because they currently don’t. And in order to get them to do that, we (We Swim Wild) started the Source-to-Sea campaign to track the levels of microplastics through our waterways. I think we have over 150 wild swimmers across the UK, from the Shetland Islands down to the Isles of Scilly, to Northern Ireland, and then to urban areas like Leeds.”

From greenwashing, to microplastics in the air, to recyclables that don’t get recycled, to governmental legislations; Laura’s passion for change is undeniable. What’s also apparent though, is her genuine belief that it a solution can eventually be found. 

“I think when people realise the scale of the problem, they’re more inclined to do something about it,” she says. “And this is the problem we’ve got. So let’s do something about it.”


This interview was made possible thanks to Hydro Flask, a brand that shares Laura’s determination to fight the effects of environmental pollution. Thus far, Hydro Flask’s Parks For All programme has donated over £1.3 million in the form of grants for various environmental initiatives, including supporting over 120 non-profit organisations. Read more about Parks For All here.


Laura’s favourite Hydro Flask products:

  • 32 oz Wide Mouth – brilliant for keeping drinks of tea toasty or enough water for myself and my son on a long trek to a mountain pool
  • 28 oz Insulated Food Jar for keeping a veg chilli warm when on the go.

Shop for the latest products from Hydro Flask at:
webtogs.com

 

Main Photo: We Swim Wild

 

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