Paula’s 2018 goal: To swim the coast of Britain
Paula McGuire is extraordinary. Terrified of water and suffering with anxiety and depression most of her life, the Glasgow woman plans to swim the entire coast of mainland Britain in 2018.
She only learned to swim this summer and she still has to face up to daily anxiety pressures yet she is unbelievably determined. I was delighted to interview Paula for an article in the Sunday Mail. You can se the pdfs left and right or read the copy below.
Paula’s Big, Mad Swim around Britain
A Scottish woman who couldn’t even walk through a puddle because of a severe fear of water is set to swim around the coast of Britain next year.
Paula McGuire will take on the 1800-mile challenge starting in April – despite only learning to swim in August.
The 36-year-old from Riddrie, Glasgow, said: “I have suffered chronic anxiety all my life and I was very afraid of water, even puddles, until recently.
“I used to be so terrified of failing that I never tried anything.
“But I am determined I will succeed in my challenge next year to swim the entire coastline of mainland Britain.”
The recluse-turned-adventurer realised her life needed to change at the age of 30.
She said: “I had been on medication and receiving support for severe anxiety and depression since I was a child.
“It started when I five, when I first felt the symptoms of anxiety.
“Reaching 30 I knew I was in a terrible place and I kept thinking I didn’t want my life to be like it was.
“I had tried everything to get better but I was still hardly existing and didn’t even like leaving the house.
“There was this dawning realisation that there was no one left to help me. I knew it was only me that could help myself.”
So Paula decided she would take her anxieties and terrors into her own hands and set herself challenges.
She said: “It was like terrifying myself to do things – and seeing if I could make myself feel better mentally.”
When Glasgow was announced as the city for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, she created a campaign, Paula Must Try Harder.
She had a go at all 17 sports featured in the Games, including judo, badminton, rugby, weight lifting and cycling.
She said: “I had never done PE or sport as a child because I was too anxious.
“So all of the sports were new to me. It took me three months to learn to ride a bike and there were bruises and fears along the way.
“But doing these challenges started to give me my life back.”
Despite aquaphobia, Paula also managed to take her first dip in a swimming pool.
She said: “It was utterly terrifying. I had never been able to go near bodies of open water because I was terrified I would drown.
“I don’t think I can say I enjoyed being in the water that first time but I was very pleased that I had faced one of my biggest fears.”
After the Games, Paula, who has been married to Gerry for eight years, kept setting herself more challenges.
She stripped naked as a life model for an art class, flew with an acrobatic display team and went rally driving.
She said: “Even going for a cup of tea in a café on my own felt like a big achievement.”
Then came her idea for the Big, Mad Swim around Britain.
She said: “Water was still not something I enjoyed but I wanted to face up to this anxiety.
“It took all my mental strength and energy even to get into a pool and I couldn’t take in any information about how to swim.
“But I decided my next challenge would be to do the swim around Britain even before I could swim properly.”
With the help of swim teachers, Paula reports she officially learned to swim in early August this year.
After only two pool lessons, she agreed to try open water swimming.
She said: “I had been speaking to open water swim coach, Robert Hamilton of Glasgow-based Vigour Events.
“He said he would take me into the water at Pilmuir Quarry reservoir on Glasgow’s south-side.
I had a panic attack and I was so overwhelmed. I clung to Robert hysterically.”
Paula recalled how she had faced her fears with her Commonwealth Games challenges.
She said: “I knew that I could make myself swim in open water if I wanted to, so I did.
“I now enjoy being in open water and I find it is good for my anxieties because when I am swimming I can’t think about anything else.
“There are so many distractions, such as the scenery and my swimming technique and it makes me feel calm.”
It’s believed Paula will be the first person to attempt swimming around the coast of Britain.
Another endurance swimmer, Sean Conway, swam from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in 2013.
He became the first person to cycle, swim and run the length of Great Britain
Paula said: “Sean has been helping me with planning my big swim although no one can really now how it will be because I am the first to try.”
She will start around April 23 from Land’s End to give her the longest window of time for weather and sea temperature.
The route will be to swim the west coast to reach John o’ Groats and then back down the eastern side of Britain.
Swimming for an average of 10 miles each day and with the tides, sometimes two tides each day, she hopes to take around six months in total.
She will need to allow for days when the weather is too bad to swim.
A kayaker, Maria Brennan, has offered her full-time support for the entire journey.
Paula said: “Maria got in touch on Facebook to say how inspired she was by my challenge.
“She will take the time off her work to dedicate her support for me.”
In the meantime, Paula, who is very slim and just 5ft tall, is busy swim training and putting on weight.
She currently spends “every spare moment I have” in the swimming pool.
She also swims for up to 20 minutes at a time each week in various lochs to aid acclimatisation.
Paula said: “I will need to build up my open water swimming but at the moment the water hovers at about 4C.
“I weigh only 7.5 stones and despite wearing a wetsuit it’s still very chilly.
“My aim is to eat a lot over the next four months because I need to gain at least two stones.”
It’s estimated Paula will need to consume 8,000 calories each day of her swim just to maintain her weight.
She said: “Clearly I need to start out heavier than I normally am so I am swimming and eating cake a great deal just now.”
Paula, who is an electronic note taker for the deaf, knows there will be people who doubt her ability to achieve her goal.
She said: “It does sound utterly mental and people are taken aback by what I plan to do. But, for me, that is the point.
“With the right attitude and support, I’m a firm believer that we can all achieve incredible things.
“Although I still suffer with anxiety it now has to live with me rather than me having to live with it.
“I’ve no doubt that I’ll do it.”