St Albans woman overcomes childhood water phobia to complete Great North Swim for charity

Hayley Bilantz raised £550 for Macmillan Cancer Support by tackling the Great North Swim. Picture: S

Hayley Bilantz raised £550 for Macmillan Cancer Support by tackling the Great North Swim. Picture: Submitted by Hayley Bilantz - Credit: Archant

A St Albans woman has overcome a childhood fear of water to complete the Great North Swim for charity.

Hayley Bilantz raised £550 for Macmillan Cancer Support by tackling the Great North Swim. Picture: S

Hayley Bilantz raised £550 for Macmillan Cancer Support by tackling the Great North Swim. Picture: Submitted by Hayley Bilantz - Credit: Archant

Hayley Bilantz was only a child when she developed aquaphobia, having panic attacks when she would go swimming with her father.

However, after Hayley had lessons from a swim instructor and gained confidence in the water, she thought those fears were a thing of the past.

Setting out to complete the Great North Swim for Macmillan Cancer Support decades later, Hayley was shocked that her fear returned.

She said: "I went to try a wetsuit on at Box End in Milton Keynes and needed to try the wetsuit out in the water. It was a stormy day. The wind was blowing and it was raining pretty hard.

Hayley Bilantz raised £550 for Macmillan Cancer Support by tackling the Great North Swim. Picture: S

Hayley Bilantz raised £550 for Macmillan Cancer Support by tackling the Great North Swim. Picture: Submitted by Hayley Bilantz - Credit: Archant


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"I got in the water and started to swim in my new wetsuit and I felt complete panic! All that fear I had as a child came flooding back. I got out of the water shivering, crying and scared once again."

Not deterred from the mental and physical challenge, Hayley booked sessions with her daughter's former swim coach, Alex Walker, and a trainer from Harpenden swim school Amanzi Open Water, Heather Schelhase.

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Hayley said she was told her panic was a natural reaction for people who have not swum in open water before.

On June 7, Hayley overcame her fears to swim one mile around the Lake District's Windermere last weekend and raised £550 for Macmillan.

This is despite bad conditions which saw the men's and women's elite 10km Great North Swim races cancelled.

Hayley, who works to help others grow their confidence, said her biggest challenge was her mindset: "As I entered the water, I could feel the icy cold water on my face.

"It was so choppy that when I tried to breathe, I got a wave of freezing cold water in my face. I was swimming very cautiously. I had a kick in the arm and a few hits on my legs. It was challenging. About five minutes in I decided to focus on what I could control. Me!

"I told myself, I am strong, I am a good swimmer, I need to swim slow, but strong and consistently. Sure enough I was off. Within 10 to 15 minutes, although the conditions were the same, I was seeing it very differently. I was actually enjoying it."

Donate to Hayley's swim at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hayley-bilantz4

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