Swimming goes deeper than sport.
Meet the British swimmer on a mission to make her sport more inclusive.
For Alice Dearing, it’s a feeling; a state of mind. In that moment – when she cuts through the surface and flows forward through the water – she taps into something greater.
“Swimming takes me to a place where I feel weightless and in control of everything,” she says.
For those who are new to swimming – or have never tried it – those words of weightlessness and control are an insight into many swimmers’ experiences. The rush of the water, the intense pace of the race… what could be grounding about that? But seen through Alice’s eyes, the water moves differently. It’s where she finds her superpower: confidence. “Swimming makes me feel how I should in the moment,” she explains. “It gives me the power of self-control, self-belief, and allows me to be who I want to be...”
Alice started swimming lessons as a young child alongside her brother, with the support of their mum. By the age of eight she was training with a club, setting her on the path to swimming at the highest level. This summer, the British swimmer represented her country in the open water marathon race, making her the first Black woman to do so.
But it hasn’t always been calm waters. Alice has had to show courage in the face of adversity. As a young swimmer, pre-race anxiety often left her unable to compete. More recently, in 2017, she lost the funding that allowed her to train and was dropped from the squad she was training with. With the help of her support network, she absorbed the shock: took a deep breath, and jumped back in on her own terms. “I've always gone my own path, or marched to the beat of my own drum,” she says. Alice swims in her own lane.
"I've always gone on my own path, or marched to the beat of my own drum"
Now she wants to bring that message of self-belief to others. As the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in a swimming event, she’s keenly aware of the work still to be done, dismantling stereotypes and making the sport more accessible to Black swimmers. For those who feel swimming isn’t for them, suffer from a lack of confidence, or feel out of place, Alice has a message. “I really hope you find your confidence,” she says. “I really hope you give swimming a chance, get into it and realise that it's so open. It's so available. You turn up to a swimming pool. You get in. You swim. No one cares what you look like, no one cares who you are.”
This is the meditative power of swimming that Alice takes into daily life. It’s where she reflects, rebuilds and finds self-acceptance. “Swimming gives you a time to settle down and have a selfish moment when you're only concentrating on yourself, for however long that may be,” she explains. “I feel like that’s such a rare thing to get in our day and age.”
"I feel like that's such a rare thing to get in our day and age"
Alice is an athlete who is reaching new heights, but arguably more importantly the water has given her something greater than any medal. “It has given me a purpose. A clear, dedicated purpose, which I can pin down and say: ‘That is what I do. That is who I am.’"