As an accomplished journalist, broadcaster and ghost writer, Alexandra Heminsley is no stranger to writing. Her bestselling 2014 memoir, Running Like A Girl, was published in thirteen different countries and entertainingly chronicled Heminsley’s own running journey. Her latest book, Leap In, continues this theme of active discovery and will appeal to anyone interested in swimming, whether recreational or competitive.
The idea for Leap In had been germinating in Heminsley’s mind for a while as she ran beside the sea, slowly but surely formulating until it created within her an undeniable pull towards its shores. Her baptism in the brine happened with her fiancée just hours before their wedding, when the ecstatic couple leapt into the opaque, bracing waters of Brighton sea and enjoyed the view towards land from the water. This induction was closely followed by a disastrous post-honeymoon dip in the same stretch of waters, which ignited within Heminsley a deep-seated compulsion to ‘take on’ the sea – viewing it as a challenge as she committed to learning to swim…properly.
Booking onto a one day open-water swimming course, Heminsley assures the organisers she is confident swimming ten to twenty lengths in the pool and enthusiastically embarks on the course. Tackling an impossibly slippery wetsuit with gusto (and generous dollops of humour) she endures the scrutiny of the eagle-eyed instructors, only to find after toiling for several hours that everything about her stroke and swimming style is wrong! Meeting half way through the day with likeminded others, the instructors tutor them in preparation for their afternoon sea-swim. The reality of pulling everything she’d learned from the day’s instruction together was way harsher than Heminsley had anticipated. But this was just the beginning of her big adventure, because despite her exhaustion and mounting frustration, she had realised what it would actually take to become a confident swimmer.
Signing up on a nine-month course run by the same organization, Heminsley allows us into her innermost thoughts as she struggles through the various hurdles she has to overcome to become more confident in the water. She has to retrain from scratch; from learning new techniques, right down to mind programming to help her build new and more efficient muscle memory, she perseveres through all the highs and lows to take on the Brighton Pier to Pier challenge, amongst others.
Heminsley’s descriptions and struggles (one of many is the curse of ill-fitting goggles) are delightfully candid and peppered with fun and warmth. She reaches out to people lacking in self-confidence, empowering you to believe in yourself and to be the best you can be.
A great bonus in the latter half of Leap In is the chapter on the history of swimming which is fascinating. There’s also a treasure trove of information on swimming techniques written in down to earth language, making it easy to visualise and apply, as well as a fab section on what to wear, including what is essential and what really is not.
To say I enjoyed this book wouldn’t do it justice, as it does far more than help you conquer your fear of the water. It enables you to trust in yourself, to never give up, and perhaps will help you to find a place where your mind can be really still; free from the somewhat toxic pace we sometimes conduct our daily lives.
Coincidentally, I started reading this book soon after I had begun recreational swimming to help me relax mentally. I had already experienced many of the things described by Heminsley in her early pool course, but have been able to take much of this information on board right down to the correct goggles (hallelujah!).
As insightful as it is inspirational, Leap In reminds us that all the best things in life are about experiences. Read this and feel elated.
Leap In is published by Hutchinson on 12 January 2016