Rising to the challenge

This week it’s over to Dr Becky Oatley to tell us about what she’s been up to:

It is a freezing cold night in the middle of Winter. Indeed, I scraped the ice from my car before I hit the road. I’m wondering what has possessed either me or my companion to agree to this idea. As I reach my destination, the bright lights of the new leisure centre rear up out of the gloom. I am here to meet Jane and we are about to try a dementia friendly swimming session.

I first met Jane through the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS). She has done work with us for several years. Jane is living with an atypical dementia and was a member of the original LINK Group – a group of people with lived experience that supported ADS in their work. Jane has continued to work with us and has contributed to research and teaching across many projects and modules. She is a much-valued member of our team! Most recently, she has been helping edit a book about leisure, and contributed some key content about the value of physical activity to be used on the new PALDem course.

Outside of ADS, I have been lucky enough to work with Jane and get to know her quite well over recent years. We share a love of physical activity, but equally neither of us are very keen on the cold, which returns us to that first freezing night at the leisure centre. As I arrive, I spot Jane and, from behind the big fleecy scarf and underneath the woolly hat pulled low over her brow, Jane laughs that her other support was not at all keen to come. We both hope the water will be warm!

The leisure centre itself is busy, and full of bright lights and noise, but once into the water, the pool is calm, and not nearly as cold as we had feared. We alternate swimming lengths with walking, and the occasional cough, splutter, and giggle as one or other of us fail in our latest attempt at mastering a new variation on doggy paddle.

Although Jane is seeing the benefits that swimming will have for her arms, we have actually arrived in this pool as we both have foot injuries. Mine, a chronic hangover from playing professional sport, Jane’s a more recent problem. And we have a walk to train for.

Not just any walk, but a 100km (62 miles) Ultra Challenge across two days along the highs and lows of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Completing our merry team of walkers is a doctor and student on the Postgraduate Certificate at ADS, the lovely Jemma (but Manchester is a little too far to come for this 45-minute swim).

Three images showing the Jurassic Coast, cliffs and beaches
Jane’s photos of the Jurassic Coast

Our Jurassic Coast challenge will be spectacular, but certainly a test. It is something that Jane has dreamed of. Having successfully walked a London Marathon in 2019, Jane has been hankering for something more. Indeed, she has chuckled to me in the past, “I could have carried on” at the end of the marathon. Jane says that, for her, walking is a way in which she can “leave [her] diagnosis behind”. It is something she can do, and, actually, it is something that she can do better than other people too. Challenging herself and successfully completing achievements are an important part of who Jane is. And I’m no different. It is our love of physical activity that has brought us together, but we also share perhaps a stubborn, resilient streak, as well as the joys of being outside, and the satisfaction of overcoming challenges. Having a goal, being tough, and having a target to train for has helped shape both of our lives.

For Jane, walking has become her go-to mode of transport, she describes it as part of her identity and an important part of daily life. My support comes in the planning and organising of our walking challenge. In truth, being a part of this challenge is a great privilege for me, and I certainly benefit from Jane’s focus and ambition. Together with Jemma, we make a good team. And we laugh a lot too. That’s important. (Although I wonder just how much either will be laughing at the end of 58km (36 miles) on day 1 with over 1600m of elevation!).

As our respective foot problems begin to settle, we have some progressively longer walks planned. Hopefully none quite so muddy as January’s effort! And the fitness from swimming with be an important add-on too. Since that first cold, dark night, there have been several more, and the swimming has quickly become a part of our weekly routine – a chance to move, to train, and to laugh of course. For both of us, being physically active is an important part of who we are and how we stay well… not just physically, but psychologically and socially too.

And taking on an unbelievable 100km (62 miles) walking challenge – well that’s just as important too.

Image showing two pairs of very muddy feet
Muddy feet on the January walk

Thanks to Becky (and Jane) for writing this blog, and I’m sure we all wish them and Jemma lots of luck for their Ultra Challenge.

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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