SHE suffers from an autoimmune disorder, leaving her feeling exhausted and lethargic every day, but that didn’t stop Mandy Williams taking “amazing” swimming tips from an Olympic triathlete earlier this month.
The 36-year-old exercise enthusiast, from the Capital, won a competition to train with the star after being diagnosed with Graves’ disease in the summer of 2012 – a condition that causes an overactive thyroid and symptoms of muscle weakness, sleeping problems and rapid heartbeat.
Her world was turned upside down when she realised she would no longer be able to do as much daily exercise as she had previously – something that was very important to both her and her husband, Owain.
But Mandy soon found a new love in swimming – one of the only sports she finds compatible with her condition – and earlier this year won an Edinburgh Leisure competition to travel to London to train with Olympian Michelle Dillon for a day.
It was an experience she described as “unforgettable” and, despite living in fear her condition may relapse, it has encouraged her to keep swimming.
Mandy said: “The competition was to encourage people to get in the pool and consisted of sending photos posing with cutouts, which were then uploaded to Twitter and Facebook along with an answer to the strapline ‘swimming suits me because . . .’.
“I really didn’t expect to win, but the experience of training with Michelle was both amazing and unforgettable.
“I was really nervous because I’m not a very experienced swimmer but Michelle was brilliant.
“I was apprehensive but she was so understanding and myself and Owain had over an hour with her in the pool.”
Recalling the days before her diagnosis, Mandy, who had been a keen runner, said that despite her training efforts she noticed her times were getting slower.
After visiting the doctor and being diagnosed with Graves’ disease, Mandy, a civil servant, undertook 21 days of intensive radioactive iodine treatment.
She said: “It was awful, I wasn’t allowed to sleep in the same bed as my husband for 11 days.”
Luckily Mandy’s treatment was a success and afterwards she turned to swimming, as she wasn’t sure how the treatment would affect her exercise abilities.
She said: “I have always been able to swim breaststroke but have had a huge phobia about putting my head in the water and decided that if I was going to be swimming regularly, now was the time to do it properly.
“I took six swimming lessons before winning the competition to train with Michelle, so at first I wasn’t very confident.
“But now I’m planning to take stroke development classes because it has boosted my confidence. Because of my condition, I have to take hormones for the rest of my life.
“Exercise will always be important, but right now I couldn’t even contemplate doing a full hour of it. That’s why swimming works for me.”