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The tao of swimming, from an Olympic champion

swimming pool rebecca adlington swimsuit athlete british swimmer Rebecca Adlington is retired from competitive swimming, but that doesn't mean she's out of the pool for good.
Credit: Getty Images

Rebecca Adlington was just 19 years old when she won two gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, breaking the world record for the 800m. She’s now 25 and retired, but that doesn’t mean she’s taking her swim goggles off just yet.

This summer, she’ll be teaming up with the SwimBritain campaign, an initiative aimed at increasing awareness about the mental and physical health benefits of swimming.


She tells Metro why this sport is the love of her life — and better than taking antidepressants.

A new study claims that swimming just a few laps a week can decrease negative emotions by a third. Having been the victim of Twitter trolls, would you say that swimming is what helped you deal with their virtual abuse?

It definitely gave me my confidence and my escapism. It’s a huge part and love of my life. It’s nice to be in a pool with your own thoughts and being able to process things, and understand what’s going on. It can give you that kind of peace.

It’s also meant to make people less grumpy.Does that make it OK to push annoying people in the pool?

People are grumpy for a reason! If you’ve just broken up with your partner, then it’s probably not going to cheer you up. But I know that for me, if I’m feeling a bit lethargic and urgh, it helps me to clear the cobwebs away, think about things and come up with solutions.

How would you describe swimming?

Freedom: The feeling of being in water is unlike anything else; you can’t replicate it. I go into my own world. And it’s just kind of the weightlessness, which is kind of how I imagine space would feel.

A lot of people would rather go jogging or ride a bicycle – and wear leggings and baggy workout clothes – because they’re insecure about the way they look in a swimsuit.

You go to the pool to escape, not to look or stare at other people. As soon as you hop in, no one’s going to see you anyway. It’s also about getting the right swimming gear. A lot of swimsuits now have a lot of support; Speedo has a range that does this tummy tuck sort of thing. Like Spanx, but not as tight.

How many laps doyou have to swim before you have to crawl out of the pool?

I can obviously keep going quite a way. ... I do 2,000 meters and [then I’m] done. I might stop to have a drink, change stroke or clear goggles. But I’d say that for most people, swimming for 30 minutes twice a week is a really good start.

Would you say swimming is more of a sport or a therapy for you?

When I competed it was definitely a sport. But it’s now more about leisure; I don’t even try and swim fast anymore. I struggled with motivation right after the Olympic Games because my body was sick of exercising. So I gave it a good six months of not being in a pool. I took that time out to mentally and physically debrief; I had to learn it wasn’t a race.

Fish envy

If you could be a fish, or any other sea creature, what would you want to be?

I’ve not really thought about it. ... I guess a dolphin? I don’t really like fish. Well, I like them, but I don’t eat them, so I don’t know much about that.

What puts you off them so much?

I guess it’s just like eating my own kind.

And if you could have one of their physical characteristics?

Gills. Because we can put flippers and fins on, but breathing underwater is something we cannot replicate.

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