Mem­oir Leap In

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Alexan­dra Hemins­ley (Hutchin­son, £12.99)

Alexan­dra Hemins­ley thought open-wa­ter swim­ming would be a breeze. True, she’d only ever swum 10 min­utes of breast­stroke at a time in the pool, but she’d run five marathons and writ­ten about them in her 2013 mem­oir Run­ning Like A Girl. How dif­fi­cult could an ex­tended dip in the sea be?

Very, as it turns out. With­out lane ropes or tiles, she finds the wa­ter ter­ri­fy­ing. A salu­tary taste of the bat­tle ahead comes when, dur­ing a dip near their Brighton home, a wave tears off her new hus­band’s wed­ding ring. On the first day of a sea-swim­ming course at the lo­cal pool, she gets stuck in a wet­suit, then barely man­ages a length of front crawl. Ven­tur­ing out into open wa­ter seems im­pos­si­ble.

Leap In is the story of con­quer­ing her fear, at a point when the choice between sink­ing and swim­ming had never felt starker. Hav­ing fi­nally found her sea legs, she flies to Greece and swims from Ke­falo­nia to ithaca on the trail of Odysseus, then starts en­ter­ing races. At the same time, she’s en­dur­ing the phys­i­cal and emo­tional tur­moil of IVF.

As her body and, at times, her whole fu­ture seem to be com­pletely be­yond her con­trol, the sea goes from be­ing a foe to a friend—some­thing that gives her the strength, in mind and body, to carry on.

This is much more than just a how-to guide for would-be sea swim­mers—it’s a man­ual for liv­ing with un­cer­tainty. last year, anx­iously pre­par­ing for an open-wa­ter swim of my own, i sent the au­thor a mes­sage af­ter she posted a pic­ture of her­self plough­ing through a tarn on in­sta­gram. ‘How can you be sure there’s noth­ing down there?’ i asked her. ‘you can’t,’ she wrote back. ‘But not know­ing shouldn’t ever mean not do­ing.’ Emma Hughes

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