We’re often blown away by the people who make up our crew. Their passion and commitment – whether to Finisterre, their individual communities or the environment – can be truly inspiring. One such individual is Ruth Rayner, who works in our Brighton store.
A beacon of positive, bubbly energy, Ruth was recently given a shout out on our company-wide Sea Tuesday Zoom call. Why, you ask? Because she’s been open water swimming every day for nearly a whole year! As she rapidly approaches her 365th day of consecutive swims, we caught up with her to hear a bit more about the challenge she’d undertaken and the charities she’s hoping to raise money for.
I’ve been surfing on and off for the past 25 years and in May 2017, I started sea swimming. As a Salty Seabird, based in Brighton and Hove, I have swum through two winters and am nearing the end of my third.
Swimming in the sea means you have to be in the moment. You can’t think about anything else. You need to concentrate and not let your mind wander to the stresses and strains that we all carry in life. You have to breathe, really breathe, and when you do, you become aware of all your senses and everything that is around you. It’s a magical thing and you always feel better for it, however cold the conditions are.
On March 16th 2020 I started swimming every single day. I didn’t set out to do that, it just became a part of my daily routine, my way of coping when the world seemed to have turned upside down. Periodically, I wondered if I might make it all the way through to March 15th 2021 but the challenge seemed too enormous to give myself at that time. Plus, January, February and March are the coldest months so that prospect didn’t fill me with any kind of joy. I now have just a week to go!
For obvious reasons, 2020 was a slightly different year and as a result of the pandemic, I swam in the sea, in skins, a total of 400 times. My 300th swim was marked by having a clear out at home, selling some stuff and giving £300, split between 5 charities and local enterprises close to my heart; the RNLI, Leave No Trace Brighton, Seabirds Ltd, Firefighters, and Sycamore Park Care Home (where my Grandma was a resident until Jan 25th of this year).
I enjoy all the preparation that goes into each swim. Checking the tides; high or low, neap or spring. This gives me valuable information about the current, swell and shore dump. It forms the basis of my swim; where I’ll go, what time I’ll go, and which direction I’ll head off in.
Ritual also plays a huge part. Saying how cold I am; this starts before I get in and is a constant all year round. I’m the one shivering and still wearing my beanie on the beach in summer! Ha! I’ll also be commenting on how ridiculous it is to be swimming in crazy weather when others will be sat at home with a cup of tea. These are my favourite swims though, a low spring tide that has plenty of swell providing waves to duck and dive through, in the wind and rain. Once in the water, everything feels right. I feel strong, alive, exhilarated. It’s a place where everything makes sense; anything is achievable. Every day brings different conditions and therefore a different swim but each one provides a positive feeling that lasts for the rest of the day. It’s truly addictive. I couldn’t imagine not having the sea in my life.
The sea, swimming and this challenge were all things I chatted to my Grandma about on our video calls throughout each week. She thought I was mad but was incredibly proud of what I was hoping to achieve. She’s always been my biggest supporter. My Grandma had Alzheimer’s and, although she has recently passed from Covid-19 (aged 95), her Alzheimer’s was not going to go away. She was a strong, capable lady and we always had an incredibly close bond. I have too many memories to mention but many involved swimming; from her taking me for my weekly swimming lesson when I was small to me teaching her to swim when I was a teenager. Treasured times. She was excited and proud that I was nearing the end of my 365 days of sea swimming so I’m now even more determined to complete this challenge for her.
It’s been excruciatingly hard losing my grandma and then my aunt (unexpectedly) within the space of two days. Temporarily going home and swimming for the past month in Yorkshire has definitely helped to numb the enormous pain from such loss, quite literally! I have found myself having to break the ice to get into the water and have swum through snow blizzards, strong winds and heavy rain up on the moors. I’ve never faced such cold conditions before in just my cossie and although it’s been extremely hard at times, it’s given me the strength I’ve needed to support myself and my mum through this difficult period.
In memory of Grandma, I’m raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. My other chosen charity is the RNLI. This is very close to my heart, having spent so much time in and around the sea throughout my life, whether that be swimming, surfing, kayaking or windsurfing. It’s an incredibly selfless charity that needs our support.
Turning a negative year into a positive is never easy but this has truly been an amazing journey and I love that what started as a deeply personal activity has developed into something that I can use to give back to causes I care about. All because I just kept swimming. Will I stop at day 365? I shouldn't imagine so!
Words & Images by Ruth Rayner
At time of writing, Ruth has managed to raise almost £1500 for her chosen charities. But with your help, this could be even higher. If you’d like to donate to support Ruth, you can find links to the respective Just Giving pages below.