Competitive open air swimming is becoming the new marathon as increasing numbers of athletes take to the lakes, rivers and seas around Britain. Artist Lisa Stansbie from Huddersfield University is one of them. She talked to Hilarie Stelfox about her all-consuming hobby and how it has inspired a series of art works
NO EXPERIENCE in life is ever wasted on an artist. That’s certainly true for long-distance swimmer Lisa Stansbie, Head of Art and Communications at Huddersfield University, who has found herself artistically inspired by her strenuous hobby.
Since taking up competitive open air swimming three years ago she has begun developing work based on the paraphernalia that swimmers use to feed and drink while in the water.
She’s all-too-familiar with the problems faced when tackling a lengthy and cold swim. Her past successes include winning a race across Derwent Water in the Lake District and completing swims in Buttermere and Windermere. She regularly trains in the River Wharfe and has even been swimming in Salford Docks.
Next month Lisa will be part of a six-swimmer relay team in an attempt on the English Channel and she has signed up for a 10k race along France’s River Seine in September.
“There are lots of rules and rituals connected with long-distance swimming,” says Lisa. “When you swim solo you feed or drink every hour. You can’t touch the boat that’s accompanying you so people create all these ingenious devices with bottles, baskets and tubes.”
As a working artist as well as member of the university staff, Lisa decided to create sculptures based on these devices.
“I asked swimmers to send me images of their homemade apparatus that their helper sticks out over the edge of the boat,” she added. “There were all sorts of contraptions.”
Lisa, 37, admits that until seven years ago her swimming style was more “doggy paddle” than anything else.
“I wasn’t much of a swimmer as a child,’’ she said. “I was a runner and a dancer, but I decided to go to adult swimming lessons as an improver and found that I had a natural knack for it.”
Her progress from swimming laps of a pool to becoming an open air swimmer was swift. She joined the City of Leeds Swimming Club and, after initially being told she wasn’t good enough to compete decided to give it her all.
“If something’s a bit of a challenge I want to pursue it – that’s my character,” she said. “My best thing is outdoor long-distance swimming because I used to do marathon running so I’m good at endurance.”
The season for open air swimming begins at Easter and finishes at the end of the summer. Even so, the waters in and around Britain are cold.
Lisa can expect the Channel to be between 15°C and 17°C in July. By comparison, the average indoor swimming pool is between 28°C and 30°C.
“I began open air swimming with a wet suit but the British Long Distance Swimming Association doesn’t allow you to wear one,” she explained.
“I don’t grease up because I’ve never found it helpful, although some people do. I think you just get acclimatised to the cold. You start off with 15 minutes at a time and build up your resistance.”