Learning to Swim

Many years ago, I decided that I had to give up that smelly, dirty habit called smoking cigarettes.

Instinctively, I just knew that I would be in serious trouble if I did not kick the habit. If the truth be known I should never, ever have started in the first place, however, that’s a story for another day.

I smoked my last cigarette on Sunday 7 January 2007, the first couple of days were hellish, driven by cravings and withdrawal symptoms I was ready to commit a murder. Thankfully, I persevered and won.

I started feeling energetic, I smelt nice and food started tasting really good.

One day I asked George to feel my pulse, I was so proud of my achievements, I was walking on a daily basis so I thought I was getting fit. George was horrified, he told me  that I needed to make an appointment with my doctor, urgently. In his opinion my heart beat was irregular. 

I laughed out loud and told him that he was talking nonsense, I then asked Arthur to take my pulse, he agreed with George. “Rubbish, the two of you are just jealous”.

George would not give up. So I duly made an appointment with my GP, I explained to him why I was there. At first he scoffed at the idea that one could feel an irregular heart beat by merely taking someone’s pulse.  To be on the safe side he would do an ECG. The next minute, I heard my lovely GP swear (not to be printed). He phoned a Cardiologist and made an urgent appointment for me to consult with him.   To cut a very long story short and I don’t want to bore you with the details, the Cardiologist confirmed that my heart beat was way, way out of rhythm.  

It was decided that I should do some form of exercise and then the situation would be reviewed in four months’ time.

I always wanted to learn how to swim.

I shall never forget my first meeting with Kyle Main, a swimming coach with Virgin Active. I told him that I had a bit of a heart issue, I needed to exercise, I decided that swimming would be the best option, only one small problem; I didn’t know how to swim. No problem he said; “buy fins, goggles and a cap and I will meet you here tomorrow morning at 0530”. At the age of 52…what a fabulous experience that turned out to be. I got to meet new and interesting people, who were so encouraging, kind and helpful.

Gail and Miss Charlotte at Hobie Beach

Four months later I had to have a pacemaker inserted.

It revolutionised my life.

Training to compete in the “Red House Mile” 2011 began in earnest. Sadly I did not finish the race, however in 2015 I trained, competed and finished the race second last. Tracy Gouws is a wonderful coach and an inspiration. Not only does she prepare contestants physically, she also prepares them mentally, that lovely, kind woman swam with me. I entertained everyone by telling them that I had “booked” my spot. “I am coming in last; please don’t spoil my fun by taking my place.” As we approached the finish line, Tracy hung back, thereby coming last. I was second last and welcomed on shore to my swimming buddies cheering and clapping. I do believe that Tracy is the first contestant in the history of “the mile” to come first and purposefully last.

In between the first attempt of swimming the red house mile and the second entry, my sister-in-law Paula and I decided to learn how to do deep sea diving. One small problem, before I could embark on the training course I had to consult my Cardiologist first. He was horrified and the answer was emphatically “No!” Undeterred, I begged and pleaded with him. Finally, he relented, on condition that I sign a letter stating that I begged him and if anything went wrong I was not to blame him. I agreed and then asked him to sign a letter that should the need arise, he would still treat and look after me. 

My people! That was such a wonderful and awesome experience. The ocean and everything lives and thrives in it is just…I don’t have enough words to describe it adequately. Ragged tooth, pyjama and hammerhead sharks are so interesting and beautiful. I promise you the movie “Jaws” proved to be more harmful than good, I have huge respect for those incredible creatures.

There is a reason for me telling this story.

I lived with a highly critical mother, whatever I did or attempted was nearly always met with derision and contempt, I was shamed into believing that I was never good enough. Nothing I did met with her approval; other people were always better, nicer and kinder. As long as I was doing the giving and she the taking all was well. Fortunately, I discovered the value of therapy and counselling as a healthy tool to unravel and heal the self-doubting and shame.

Therefore, I am grateful to George for encouraging me to write, to share my story with friends and family.  George has shown me that my experiences and stories are worthy as they are unique, wonderful, funny, daring and sometimes just darn foolish!

My reason for sharing this story with you is that your wonderful comments week in and week out have encouraged me so enormously – they mean so much to me…so much so that I want to make a suggestion.

Here it is!

All of us young, middle-aged, old, men or woman, girl and boy, have a story to share with the world.

So here’s the deal. Once a month I will publish a guest blog. I am inviting you to submit your stories, don’t listen to that inner critic, just do it. The same  group of people, who assist me on a weekly basis, are waiting to assist you in terms of layout and editing.


You might like to share some funny and interesting photographs with us. Send them along, please, the world is a scary place right now, let’s create a space where we can have some fun!

Step out of your comfort zone, be bold and climb the mountain or learn to swim at the grand old age of whatever! You never know where and what this could lead to.

Hugs and kisses from this “sometimes foolish woman”!

Lazying in the bay at Hobie Beach

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  • Anne Bizinos

    Lovely story about learning to swim. We all have the ability to learn something new no matter what age we are. That’s what schools should be teaching – lifelong learning is important.

  • Gail! ….you swam with sharks??


    Wow, Gail. What a fiercely brave approach to life! There is no foolishness in this whatsoever 🙂
    What a wonderful and poignant story. You have a stronger heart, for having a “weak” heart, if you know what I mean.

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you darling Nina, I do believe that because of my health issues, I enjoy each moment, opportunity and just live my life.

  • Brilliant story, Gail. Thansk so much for sharing. As someone who did their first scuba dive a few years ago in the Philippines and absolutely Loved it i can completely concur, although i sadly didn’t get to see any sharks. But brilliantly well done for pushing through!

    • Gail Charalambous

      Wow Brett, the Philippines! That must have been absolutely amazing.
      Take care and stay safe.

  • Michelle M

    What an inspirational story Gail. You never fail to inspire, amuse, affirm other people.

  • Elzabe Boshoff

    You have always been such an incredible inspiration to me Gail, I also swam with Kyle Main, such a great coach …. watching you learn to scuba dive and always with that radiant smile – you are wonderful. I am so grateful George picked up that irregular heart beat and that your pace maker has made such a beautiful space for living, loving, laughing and inspiring ❤️

  • Sanette Cavallari

    Oh how I miss meeting you at Hobie Beach for a little dip and chat !!

    • Gail Charalambous

      Sanette, I miss our chats where we put the world to right

  • What a wonderful story. You are truly an inspiration!

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you so much Cheryl – as are you. Would you like to submit a piece to the blog. You have incredible wisdom to share with all of us.

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you so much Cheryl. I pray that you will contribute to the invitation to share a story as you are also such an inspiration.
      Take care

  • truly ins

  • Terence

    I never knew you couldn’t swim.
    I am enormously impressed by your adventurous spirit and tenacity.
    You do inspire to try the scary .

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you Terry, looking forward to meeting up with you later today.