James McGowan was the son of my close friend, Ellery McGowan. Ellery and I first met at Charterhouse Club when we both moved to Guildford in 1996. Through our mutual passion for swimming, we became close friends and of course, this meant my path crossed with her son, James, many times. She always spoke about his days at Winchester College and when I met him, I understood why she was so proud of him. Happy, positive, funny and kind describe him.
After he finished his studies in Dublin, he worked for my husband. So we had what we thought was a strong connection. At the same time, Ellery knew our children from teaching at St. Hilary’s School Swimming and from being part of their lives from an early age. In addition, we had also done an English Channel Relay, amongst the many swims we shared together.
Little did we know that we would share another, tragic story.
Our daughter, Victoria, was diagnosed with a rare cancer in May of 2014. Throughout the year she fought for her life at Cleveland Clinic, Ellery was a constant source of support and positive encouragement. She raised money through a swim at Charterhouse, which supported the research into her particular type of cancer. Sadly, she passed away almost one year to the day of her diagnosis.
When Ellery told me about the tragedy of Jame’s death, I was in complete shock. I didn’t know much about CRY but sadly, knew what lay ahead for her and the rest of her family in the short term. There comes a time when you have to find a reason to stay in the present and make some meaning of their lives. The desire to hold onto their memory is so strong, doing anything has a healing effect. So I wasn’t surprised that she set herself the challenge of swimming 5 swims for James.
I read on Facebook, that one of her swims in Turkey had to be abandoned due to the political unrest. At that moment, I thought, well if she can’t do a swim, I’ll do one for her and James. I chose the Murky Mile because it presented a 2.4 mile swim in open water, a distance that I had not trained for in a long time. I wanted to find some motivation to get back into the water myself after months away. I began training in July for the 27th August swim at Cave Run Lake in Kentucky. There was a full field of swimmers, young and “old”, some training for the swim portion of a future triathlon. It was a beautiful start to the morning with the fog lifting off the water.
When it came time to start, I thought what a wonderful way to honour James and Ellery. In the end, I was third woman overall, which made me feel very satisfied that it was all worth the training. My counterparts were about 30 years younger so even though I struggled to get onto the podium, the medal was mine! I could not have been happier that I could give Ellery and James a decent third place finish out of about 20 female swimmers. I was thrilled to take part in this swim and have invited Ellery to come over next year to do it. I look forward to her being there next year.