The Big Chilli Dip

The Big Chilli Dip

Parents of children that I teach can sometimes be a pain in the proverbial. I’m not talking about the ones that think they know better than you, I’m talking about the ones that befriend you, become friends with you on Face Book and then suggest you do something completely and utterly mad together, which happens to be not just outside your comfort zone; but firmly placed in the stratosphere.

Lady Chilli Swimmer

It all started with my friend Sam suggesting we do a New Year’s day dip together at work’s outdoor pool.  After warning her my language might be a bit colourful, I agreed, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at life) our dip didn’t happen as work was closed this year.  The next idea Sam came up with was a twenty-six mile bicycle ride round London in the name of charity.  This sounded painful, as I am not a cyclist, so I was quite hesitant in agreeing to this and was secretly pleased when the idea came to nothing.  Unbeknown to me, I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  Sam had clearly decided this was the year that she was going to set herself a challenge to achieve and that I was going to be her partner in crime.


About two weeks before the actual event, Sam declares that she would like to do the big chilli dip in aid of St. Nicholas Hospice.  Now the name of the event is quite deceptive, it has nothing to do with eating chillis or dipping bread into some spicy food.  It involves swimming two hundred metres in an outdoor (unheated) pool in February – wet suits are banned.  I’ve never done an open water swim before (unless you count wading across a width of the work’s pool on New Year’s day and swearing about how cold it is), let alone during winter and I don’t own a wet suit.  So I stupidly said yes.

Signing up two weeks before the event, I thought I should have enough time to get acclimatised.  I managed one cold shower, with the help of my husband pushing me under whilst I screamed blue murder.  Sam and I did plan to do a few practice sessions in the work’s outdoor pool, but I was told it wasn’t open until the day of the event.  I also came down with a cold, the week before.

I had spent all of the half term holidays, pushing my impending doom out of my mind and thinking “I’ve got a cold, it would be silly for me to take part”, but by Saturday, I realized that I was probably well enough to take part (much to the relief of Sam).  Sunday 23rd February arrived, a bit cloudy and a bit blowy, but quite warm for this time of year.  I kept thinking to myself, “It’s not that bad, at least it’s not New Year’s Day and hey!  It’s not snowing!”

Getting my bag packed (one swimming costume, two towels, two t-shirts, goggles, hat and one pair of jogging bottoms) and travelling to work, I felt quite calm (it’s NOT that cold) and felt even better when I had received my complimentary swim hat, bottle of water and foil blanket and Sam had arrived.  Poor Sam, she wasn’t happy, kept asking me whose stupid idea was it and that she really didn’t want to do it.  We were really due for some luck.  There were two groups swimming (twenty five people swimming in total) and we were both in group one (better to get it over and done with?).  During the prep talk, we were told we were swimming widths as many times as possible in five minutes - we had finally got the luck we needed: push and glide and we could cover half a width without much effort.  My work colleague had also told us not to start swimming straight away, but give ourselves time to get used to the temperature of the water.


Ok, so I felt prepared.  There I was standing on poolside in a t-shirt and swimming costume, being asked to do star jumps in front of a crowd of people (sorry, but you can stuff that one), Sam muttering something about “lack of support” in the clothing department and having our photo taken for the local paper.  It was then sitting on the side and dangling our feet in the water, ok, that was cold.  Then the organizer told us to get in - OH MY GOD!  I couldn’t breathe!  I looked around and everyone had left me for dead, I began to panic and thinking I can’t do this, I can’t breathe.  It was like having a heavy weight pushing on my chest and the pain was unbearable.  With some poolside encouragement, I managed to swim two widths, but people had begun to lap me and the really mad ones were swimming front crawl with their heads down.

After the first two widths, the panic really set in and I started to look for a quick exit; but when you have your supporters shouting at you, you have no choice but to carry on.  I chose to swim front crawl (very badly) with my head up and made the most of the push and glides of the wall.  Eventually my breathing became easier and the water, whilst still painful, felt warmer.  I managed to catch people up and overtook Sam and watched with sympathy as other swimmers began to struggle with the cold.  There were a couple of times when I put my foot down midway, due to water splashing on my face (it upset my breathing), but I did it!


Admittedly, it was one of the longest five minutes of my life, but what a sense of achievement!  I have done something I never thought I would in extreme circumstances and I’m even considering doing it again next year, all in aid of a good cause and the sheer buzz of doing what is thought by many as being dangerous.  Am I turning into an adrenaline junky?

Male Chilli Swimmer

Thank you to St. Nicholas Hospice for the use of the "How cold is water at six degrees?" video clip and the "Big Chilli Dip" logo.  For more information on the work that St. Nicholas Hospice does, please visit:

Photographs taken by
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Wrapped Up Against The Cold