What’s the story?

Rosanna Machado | July 19, 2021

One thing I love about meeting new open water swimmers is that you meet on a level playing field, wearing the scruffiest of tracksuit bottoms or in your cossie, therefore a lot of the signals that we use to make snap judgements about someone are not there – how they dress, which company they work for, who they know and talk to. It can be an opportunity to have an honest conversation without judgement and without pre-conceptions.

When I started my channel swimming journey seven months ago, my fellow teammates and I had two things in common – we wanted to swim the channel and raise money for Aspire. None of us knew the journey we had gone on to get to this point. Despite qualifying comfortably for the swim, I found myself, on occasions, slipping into my old narrative of not being good at sport and how I wasn’t as good as the others. Through this journey, I have learnt a lot about my identity and how I can continue to grow.

How we define ourselves can be very limiting – we are putting ourselves in a box and that can mean we are not open to new or different opportunities. It is such an easy trap to fall into as we are often defined at networking events by what we do and who we work for. I have found that in the down times of 2020, I have become more resilient and confident about talking about myself in a context wider than my job. And it is far more interesting!

When it comes to swimming, I realised that there was a fear of letting go of this narrative as once I had, there would be no excuse for not performing. I find that my emotions are strongest when they clash with my values. A good example of this is that I hate being late for meetings because I feel it looks disrespectful and respect is my number one value. If I am meeting a colleague who knows me well, I am less stressed as I feel they are aware of my values (although it is still stressful, however much I coach myself about it being out of my control!!).

I have learnt that letting go is easier when I understand my emotions around it. My sporting fear is associated with not wanting to let the team down, yet I knew it was something I wanted to do as I would feel mentally and physically fitter by doing more sport. By letting go, I needed to give myself the best chance of success by training hard and looking after myself, which I committed to at the beginning of the journey. I also needed to remind myself that there would still be a lot of things out of my control, so preparing myself to react in the best way I could to whatever was thrown at me was also important. On the boat, I was told that my first swim wasn’t fast enough, and I needed to put in more effort on my second one. Whilst this would have upset me hugely a few years ago, I realised that I was being told this to help us succeed as a team and I needed to take it in the spirit it was intended.

I have learnt that I need to believe in myself and try not worry what others think. Knowing that I am doing something because it is the right thing for me, is the most important thing. In this case, some people thought I was bonkers, but the right people rallied around with supporting words and encouragement.


Lots of elements of our identity are associated with social norms and what we think we are expected to be doing at a certain point in our life. Over the past five years, as I have grown as a person, I am less defined by what I do and more by my purpose, my values and how I can be creative and make a difference. This is a constantly evolving story and one with uncertainty but without the uncertainty and discomfort, there is no opportunity to grow so isn’t it worth a risk?