A school trip of a lifetime

When I was invited on the first ever school swimming tour, I was naturally honoured to have been offered such an amazing opportunity. Little did I know this was to be more than swimming training as Mrs Cheshire had said from the outset, ‘This is a journey, not a race’ and what a journey it was!

Against the breath-taking backdrop of Montenegro, we swam at least 5k a day in a variety of open water types: fjords, the beautiful Lake Skadar, the tranquil Maraca river, the Adriatic Sea, hidden coves and the famous cave of Plava Spilja. We explored the Bay of Kotor whilst visiting historic towns dotted along the shoreline. This was a challenge that took me outside of my comfort zone, involved much risk taking but with perseverance, determination and resilience, I have a newfound confidence, made lasting friendships and have the most unforgettable memories

Eleven pupils, accompanied by Mrs Cheshire, Miss Korcz and Mr Pollock, were staying at the Perast Palace, just metres from the water’s edge and my room had spectacular views over Kotor. After an acclimatisation swim, we enjoyed our free time, exploring the local town. We met ‘Grandma’, our amazing chef, who prepared a traditional breakfast for us every morning, a packed lunch every day and occasionally dinner if we did not go out to a local restaurant.

Our first swim took us to two islands just off Perast: St George and Our Lady of the Rocks. We travelled everywhere on a private boat piloted by SwimTrek guides. I was extremely nervous for my first swim. The water was crystal clear and warm; the weather balmy, but I had 5k ahead of me and had to find courage and stamina. By the end of the day, I had accomplished my goal. There was always the opportunity to climb on the boat if you needed a break and we were all there to encourage and support each other. Sweet drinks were given to us at regular intervals to keep our sugar levels up.  The group were being tested to the limit but had already formed a great bond and knew we were looking out for each other.

On day three we headed out to Tivat Bay, swimming between the islands of Prevlaka, beautiful Sveti Marko and Gospa od Milosrda. We swam 3.5k in the morning, in 1 hour 34 minutes, burning an average of 727 calories. In the afternoon we swam up the Lustica Peninsula and finished at the swimming village of Franciskovici. We covered 6k that day and I felt exhilarated with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

The next day was the most daunting for me as we visited Lake Skadar, a freshwater swimming experience which was deep and quite cold. Nevertheless, there was always good humour amongst the group. We would play music in between swims, dance on the deck with our guides Morgan and Marlys, or sunbathe on the front of the boat

There was an early start on day five as we were embarking on an extreme challenge to swim in tight formation as we were completing a crossing to Stoliv and had to avoid other transportation on the sea. Once at the hamlet, we had a beautiful walk to the Church of Gornji Stoliv up the slopes of Mt Velji Vrh.

Saving the best until last, day six was my most memorable of all. We travelled to Zanjica on the border of Croatia. There we explored the WWII submarine tunnels in Prstan. We swam in and out of caves along the Adriatic coast ending in “Plava Spilja”, a nine-metre-high cave which we explored.

This was the first of many planned ‘Swim Treks’ that Mrs Cheshire hopes to arrange in the future. To date this has been my most rewarding school trip. It was beyond my expectations and I now feel I understand the water so much more. I have lost my fear of the unknown and have improved my fitness and endurance. I am fortunate to have spent a week with great people in a breath-taking place and this trip has had a great impact on me. We had the perfect balance of work and play, and I have returned self-assured, with a positive mindset. In the words of Summer Sanders (USA gold medallist in swimming), “The things you learn from sports – setting goals, being part of a team, confidence – that’s invaluable. It’s not about trophies and ribbons. It’s about being on time for practice, accepting challenges and being fearful of the elements.” And to remember the words of Mrs Cheshire, “It’s a journey not a race”; this is a philosophy I will now be applying to everything I choose to do going forward.

Jemima Strong, Year 10

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