This year, we're taking the ‘Every Body Swim' campaign to the Arla Great North Swim - showcasing that swimming is for everyone and that all swimmers should be celebrated.    

Everyone is welcome at the Arla Great North Swim, and we want as many people to experience the freedom and sense of belonging that comes from open and cold water swimming. So, no matter your age, sex, ethnicity, swimming experience, mental or physical ability - you can feel inspired to improve and enhance your health.

Vickie Orton, 55, lives in Otley, West Yorkshire. She took up swimming last year after a friend encouraged her to come along for a 70th birthday celebration - and it's been hard to get her out of the water since! This is Vickie's first Great North Swim and she'll be taking part in the 1 mile event.

What do you like about open water swimming?
Before I became a wheelchair user - I have multiple sclerosis - I was an avid hill walker. I really missed walking and found it very hard to deal with. Open water swimming is a way for me to be out in nature and experience it in a similar way to walking. I can go at my own pace and get the same peace and relaxation from being in nature that I did before. I've also made some great friends without whom I would struggle to get into and out of the water.

How does open water swimming make you feel?
It's hard to sum up in words how it feels to be in the water. I still remember the first time I swam in the river with my friend and I couldn't believe how uplifting it was. Once I'm in the water, I feel ‘normal'. It doesn't matter that my legs don't work properly; I'm not trying for any speed records, I'm just enjoying being in nature. Once I'm in the water, nobody knows that I use a wheelchair.

If I miss being in the water for several days, I can feel it affecting my mental health. I've never regretted going for a swim, even in the rain, but I have regretted not going for a swim. You come out a different person to the one who went into the water.

What does your training involve?
I usually swim at least three times a week, and by the time of the Arla Great North Swim I'll probably be swimming daily. From April, I'll be swimming the Otley Mile at least once a week.

I'm trying to build up my distance swimming in choppy water and against the flow in local reservoirs. Because my legs don't work properly, I can't do proper swimming moves, so I'll work on my stamina. My MS means that I can't do exercises to increase my muscle strength and I'm aware that swimming a mile with the flow of the river is very different to swimming against the current in a lake!

In addition to swimming, I also do a seated exercise class twice a week and a seated yoga class when I'm well enough. The lighter evenings make it easier to squeeze in more swims, but I'm lucky that I can generally be flexible with my time to fit in a swim.

How has swimming inspired you or improved your daily life?
My MS means that some days I can be paralysed and bedbound, so on those days when I feel able to I like to do something that gives me what I call ‘food for the soul'. 

When I can swim regularly, my mobility is improved - my neurologist has even noticed it. Interestingly, I find it hard to swim in an indoor pool as the warmth affects my muscles negatively and afterwards I have more fatigue. Cold, however, is generally good for my MS - it reduces the pain in my joints and can lessen muscle spasms. My mental health is also improved by a dip in the water.

When my health is very bad and I'm bed bound, I can reflect on the times I've been in the water and it provides ‘food for the soul'. It gives me something to aim for when I'm feeling better.

It's also improved my confidence. I've made lots of new friends through swimming. I'm really lucky that I can have a good laugh with the people I swim with. We all respect each other - it's not a competitive environment at all.

I work as an artist and oral storyteller, and water has influenced some of the art I make and stories that I tell.

The Arla Great North Swim will be back on 7-9 June 2024
Choose from six different open water swimming distances to suit all ages, abilities, and level of experience. Whether you're looking to get fit, improve your time, soak up some nature or raise money for charity, you‘ll be part of an amazing collective experience - guaranteed.  Dive into nature and join us at the UK's biggest open water swimming event.

So, what do you say - see you on the shore? Find out more here.