An inspirational Alnwick woman is using her love of swimming to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and to encourage more people with them to swim if they can.
Gill Castle who had an ostomy following a difficult childbirth ten years ago is aiming to dispel some myths about swimming with an ostomy and to encourage others in a similar situation to be more active and not to be frighted to swim, if they want to.
Ostomy surgery is a potentially life-saving procedure that allows bodily waste to pass through a surgically created opening or stoma on the abdomen into a pouch or ostomy bag on the outside of the body.
Gill is a keen wild water swimmer and frequently swims off the beautiful Northumberland coast. This love of open water swimming has set her on course for her next challenge, which is to swim the English Channel in 2023, and to be the first woman with a stoma to do so.
She is also a familiar face in the Willowburn Sports & Leisure Centre in Alnwick where she spends many hours training in preparation for her big swim.
With the help of a fitness coach Shaun Gaines, Gill is working hard to build up her strength and fitness both in the pool and in the gym. After qualifying for her Channel swim, her next milestone in her training plan is a 10-mile solo swim in Lake Windermere in September.
“Every nine minutes in the UK someone undergoes stoma surgery, so there are a lot of us about and yet it continues to be a bit of a taboo subject!” said Gill.
“I want to encourage other people to embrace their stomas. I get enormous pleasure from swimming and by wearing my ‘Have Stoma Will Swim’ swimming costume, I hope to shine a spotlight on swimming and encourage other people with stomas to be active, and in particular to try swimming, an activity which many people with stomas are too scared to try.”
Mark Warnes, Chief Executive of Active Northumberland said: “We want people with hidden disabilities to feel accepted, welcomed and understood in our leisure centres. Exercise is vital to our physical and mental health, and I applaud Gill’s drive and determination to raise the profile of these issues. She is a really inspirational lady and we look forward to supporting her and following her journey as she trains for her Channel swim.“
Northumberland County Councillor Wendy Pattison, cabinet member for Adult Wellbeing said: “I admire Gill enormously. She has taken her personal experience and used it positively to champion the benefits of exercise and to help and inspire others who are in a similar situation.”