Channel swimming: extraordinary bodies

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr Karen Throsby, a sociology lecturer at Warwick University. Karen is in the middle of a 2.5 year research project into the sociology and politics behind creating (and walking around inside) the kind of physical body capable of swimming the English Channel. Both Karen and I are Channel swimmers and I found it fascinating and a complete pleasure to talk (for hours!) to her: someone experienced in Channel swimming and so interested in what I’d call the politics of the body. My Masters studies touched on gender politics and the sociology of the body and chatting to Karen made me realise quite how much I’d forgotten. Now my brain aches to match my muscles! 😉

Karen during training for her Channel swim

Here is the website for Karen’s project. If you’ve swum the Channel and want to offer your thoughts, memories and feelings up for research, get in touch with her. Karen’s blog The Long Swim is here (she’s swimming Catalina next and I’m jealous….so I guess that answers your questions Karen when you asked “so is that it for you now?” 😉 )

I’ve asked Karen to do a guest post and a Q&A on this blog some time, so please do look out for that, I promise it will be interesting to you whether you’re interested in Channel swimming, sport in general or in why we view our bodies (and those of others) in the way we do. For now, here’s a little about Karen’s research and things she asked me.

Karen’s research is called “Becoming a Channel Swimmer: Identity and Embodiment in a Sporting Subculture” which is a fancy way of saying she’s looking at what happens (socially) when we have to create a certain kind of body to do a certain sporting event (in the Channel swimming example, typically to add or retain body fat -certainly not lose it – and to build significant upper body muscle, usually without trying). What does it mean to us to have that kind of body? And how do other people react Is there a “perfect sporting body” and, if so, what is it, and how can that be when so many different kinds of bodies perform very well against different types of athletic demands? Karen’s looking at how our society views and values muscle, strength and body fat and the social politics behind sport and our bodies in sport.

Huge apologies to Karen if I’ve dumbed her work down to such a level that she no longer recognises it 😉

After my first swim
Me after my first Channel swim

So she interviewed me as someone who’s swum the English Channel twice and around the Channel Island of Jersey once (and a half, but we don’t talk about that!) She asked me how I felt about my body as it changed, and whether I made a conscious effort to control the changes one way or another. She asked me about nutrition. She asked how I felt about my swims: the training swims, the preparation stages, the swims themselves once I got in and set off for France.

She asked questions about what swimming means to me, how it feels, and what my favourite swimming memory is. If you’re interested, I said it was hard to choose between the moment I stood up on Wissant sand at the end of my second Channel swim, and that crazy 4-hour training swim in Dover harbour in 2004 when – out of nowhere – the skies blackened and we had a storm of ice-chips so large and hard they cut us. Of course, we were so cold our cuts didn’t bleed until we were getting dressed after the swim.

Happy days.

Thanks, Karen, for a very interesting chat and for asking me to dig back into my bank of memories and feelings about swimming and Channel swimming in particular. I hope we’ll keep in touch.

Channel swimming: extraordinary bodies is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


4 Responses to Channel swimming: extraordinary bodies

  1. Great to meet you Nicola – and thanks for the fantastic write-up of our meeting and of the project (a perfect summary!). Kx


  2. […] study of channel swimmers’ bodies. You can read about the time she interviewed me here (and here on her own blog). I asked Karen to write a post about what open-water (sea) swimming […]


  3. […] but I’d like to thank them. Not many people know this but – as I told Dr Karen Throsby when she interviewed me for her research into Channel swimmers – I believe reading “National Velvet” was […]


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