Wild swimmers take the plunge to raise charity cash

Wild water swimmers in West Lothian have put on their thinking caps – and bobble hats – to help a fellow dipper raise money for a cancer charity.
Funds will be raised in memory Shaun McKinley, pictured here with his son RossFunds will be raised in memory Shaun McKinley, pictured here with his son Ross
Funds will be raised in memory Shaun McKinley, pictured here with his son Ross

Members of West Lothian Dippers are braving sub-zero temperatures by signing up to a personal February challenge. They will go a bit further than swimming in open water, to raise money for a fellow dipper’s charity effort in memory of his son-in-law.

John Keogh, from Uphall, plans to swim every day of February to raise money for Sarcoma UK, after losing family member Shaun McKinley tragically to a rare cancer.

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Lesley Walker, who administrates the Dippers’ Facebook page along with Victoria Patel, said: “John got in touch to see if the group could help him fundraise, but we went that bit further, with Challenge it Your Way in February.” They encouraged members – who are all used to cold water – to come up with their own challenge.

Not everyone can swim every day, so Lesley suggests: “You might want to brave putting your face in the water, you might want to go further out so your feet have nothing beneath them, you might want to swim a distance within a certain time, you might want learn to do front crawl.”

Swimmers will donate to John’s fundraiser, and gain a bobble hat as part of their pledge.

Shaun was just 34 when he died, eight months after diagnosis, and John said: “Shock, heartbreak and despair barely describes how we felt as a family. My daughter would soon be a widow and two wee boys left without their daddy. While it won’t bring Shaun back or eradicate the pain and the hurt, I’m hoping my minor contribution can in some way help gain more insight into this devastating form of cancer, preventing other families going through a similar tragedy.”

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Recently retired, John decided to use his new hobby to raise funds for the charity and swims five days out of seven so far.

Wild, or open, swimming has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Many new groups have established themselves, putting swimmers in touch online and ensuring newcomers and experienced swimmers put safety first.

Swimmers should educate themselves about the physical challenge of cold-water immersion and understand the risks of hypothermia, monitor how their body responds and always warm up correctly.

Victoria says: “It’s important no-one swims alone and that people don’t go into the water without understanding the risks. While it is not advisable to begin open water swimming in winter, with support, the danger can be lessened and there are things you can do to increase cold water tolerance, like taking cold showers.”

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As well as sharing general safety information, the Dippers pair up swimmers with buddies who know particular locations. This way swimmers learn about dangers that may be distant or unseen. This includes knowing about currents, locating pipes or structures within reservoirs, and hidden objects like stones, steep drops or undergrowth.

West Lothian Dippers is a private group on Facebook. During the current lockdown it is closed to new members to help rules in place to fight the pandemic, but when restrictions ease will welcome new members.

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