Memoir Leap In
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