Principal's Blog

#ChallengeYourself. Set an ambitious but achievable goal

06 December 2022


#ChallengeYourself. Set an ambitious but achievable goal


I thrive on having a target to work to, keeping myself challenged and maintaining a spirit of adventure.  As a result, I have fallen into the habit of picking a new physical challenge each year. So, when in the midst of last ski season the idea of participating in a locally organised event  ‘La Traversée du Lac’ was put to me, I seized on the suggestion for this Summer’s physical challenge. The idea of swimming from St Gingolph in France to Vevey in Switzerland sounded rewarding; the thought of swimming 8.4km was somewhat daunting.





I was never a strong swimmer as a child but in my 30s was inspired when watching the London Olympics in 2012.  Appreciating that it is never too late to learn a new skill, I joined a triathlon club for swim coaching. For months I struggled through swim sessions several times a week trying to master the basics of freestyle.  

My next challenge became triathlons and for a number of years I competed regularly, starting with sprint distance, building to long distance Ironman events. Most triathletes tend to see one of the 3 sports as their weakest and know what it feels like to struggle through that leg.  Swimming remained for me the part I had to just get through before getting onto the bike and run where I felt more in my comfort zone.  In triathlons 3.8km was the furthest I had swum and that had been hard, so 8.4km across Lac Léman was certainly going to be a challenge!  


Expect setbacks - they make you stronger

I knew I had the mental resilience from long-distance running and cycling events, as long as I could build up the necessary physical stamina to swim the distance. My training started in earnest at the end of ski season and by May, as the temperature began to rise, I started to enjoy swimming in Lac Léman, gradually building up the distance.  I was just beginning to feel my swimming rhythm and strength returning, when with 8 weeks to go until the crossing I slipped going into the lake, breaking my wrist and facing 4 weeks in plaster. Realistically I thought my participation in the event was out of the question, but, ever the optimist, I secretly retained a small hope of taking part. Thankfully my wrist healed well and as soon as the cast was off I returned to the water. Over the next few weeks I trained hard and was all set, although feeling a little underprepared when the day arrived.


Avoid comparing yourself with others

This is easier said than done!  Jornet’s quote articulates the relativity of personal achievement so well:

In the mountains, the idea of a record is relative, since it’s impossible to compare two times even on the same peak….in the end speed should be less important than an athlete’s inner assessment of his/her performance. And this has to do with his/her own evaluation of the results of his/her training and preparation, and the conditions under which he or she has achieved this.
Kilian Jornet, professional trail runner, Spain

There was only a small number of participants in the event.  At registration I was told there were ‘15 participants and 1 female’ - I chuckled at this distinction. In fact, there were 2 females, it was just that the similarity between my name and a French male name had caused confusion.  Looking on the bright side, it would be the first time I would appear on the podium for my swimming.  As we prepared for the start, I was excited by the challenge but realised you are never too old to feel butterflies of nervousness. When the horn went, I stuck to the plan I had visualised, to set off calmly, find my rhythm and not be tempted to look at other swimmers and their support boats disappearing into the distance. I was determined to enjoy the challenge!

For the next 3.5 hours, I swam one stroke after another. I kept smiling to myself and consciously appreciating the moment - how lucky to be swimming through the most beautifully clear water, surrounded by the most stunning landscape.  It was a team effort - my safety boat (skippered by our ski instructor who had challenged me to the crossing back in January) expertly set the course to help me swim as directly as possible to the finish line. Not an easy task on a windy day! Hours after the event had ended I was still feeling the effects of motion sickness from the waves.



Be proud of your achievement

Finishing in 3h31 I was delighted to have hit my estimated time spot on. My shoulders were certainly aching, but otherwise, I felt surprisingly good. The positive buzz I got from my sense of personal achievement stayed with me for a good few weeks after the event. As I tell students regularly, we are allowed to feel proud of ourselves when we achieve our goals.  

Setting and achieving personal goals keeps us energised. I continue to draw energy from the memory of the crossing - and am fortunate to have the most inspiring view of Lac Léman from my office window from which I can see the 8.4km crossing every day - it just doesn’t look as far from a distance!