Meet the Leeds woman who celebrated 70 with an unforgettable swimming challenge | #teacher | #children | #kids

Former teacher Anita Walker had a very different plan in mind for marking this particular milestone though.

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As a keen open water swimmer since she was a child, she routinely takes the plunge so it was the obvious way to celebrate her big day.

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Former teacher Anita Walker has been a keen open water swimmer since childhood.

Determined to make the celebratory swim into one that she would always remember, she invited 70 others to join her at her regular swimming spot, just half a mile from her home in Otley.

Those taking part ranged from under 30 at the youngest to almost 80 at the oldest, proving there are plenty more years in the water for her to enjoy yet.

It was also the culmination of a year-long swimming schedule that had taken Anita to 70 open water swimming spots all around the country in aid of the children’s charity Barnardos.

“I thought ‘what could I do for my 70th year?’ she said. “Seventy swims I could easily achieve, so I thought 70 different locations. It made me find different places to swim and it has been brilliant. I planned a trip and got people to come with me.

Anita Walker celebrated her milestone birthday year with 70 open water swims in 70 different locations.

Already a regular swimmer on the River Wharfe, she went to Tadcaster so she would swim nearer to where the river ends. Other highlights were the River Swale, River Trent and the River Weaver as well as lots of lakes.

However, her favourite was by far the discovery of the River Ure which she has been drawn back to since.

She said: “That is the most beautiful river that I have ever been to. I knew nothing about it and asked people in the swimming community where to go and they suggested Ripon. That was a real revelation.

“As we went further along it was the most soft gentle flow, level and sheltered – I will most definitely go back there.”

Rain and even snow is hard pressed to put her off and having been an outdoor swimmer for years, she is experienced and aware of the danger as much as the pleasure and the benefits.

She admits that she has “frightened herself” on a few occasions though and she will never sea swim alone.

At each new river or lake location, she also studies the flow of the water before she gets in and where to get out.

“I have been doing it pretty much all my life, I am not a new convert to it,” she said. “I always swam outdoors when I was a kid and carried on. When my kids were little, I took them to rivers rather than pools and always swam in the sea.

“I have a propensity to water I think and have always found myself near rivers and streams even if not swimming.”

The chance to be closer to nature is something that Anita relishes while out on her swims.

She said: “I saw my first dragon fly this week while swimming and saw kingfishers. To be outdoors and in nature is just fantastic, it is so green and peaceful. There is the quality of the water that changes with every light and every day.

“You don’t have to be fit, beautiful, you don’t have to be diving in, you get in and enjoy the water.

“It kept me sane during lockdown, I could go to the river and I could swim and cool off. I swim every day, if I don’t I get ratty, I need to be in the water.”

Anita chose Barnardos because of the help the charity had given her family when she was growing up.

The eldest of six children, Anita was taken into care at the age of eight when her mum was taken into a mental health care facility and her dad was in prison. The charity took in the three girls, housing and educating them.

Towards the end of her life, Anita’s mum spoke about her brothers. Barnardos was able to find the youngest brother and arranged for them to meet before she died.

“That was quite something”, Anita said. “She met him a couple of times before she died and I have maintained contact with him.

“They do completely different work now and work with vulnerable people, but you don’t see them on the high street and you don’t hear that much about them.”

Anita’s 70th birthday swimming challenge has raised more than £900 to date, with learning to dive on the agenda for the year ahead.

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