Northumberland swimmer aiming to raise awareness of hidden disabilities

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.

By David Sedgwick
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 3:52 pm
Left to right: Northumberland County Councillor Martin Swinbank, Gill Castle and Active Northumberland duty manager Glen Robson.
Left to right: Northumberland County Councillor Martin Swinbank, Gill Castle and Active Northumberland duty manager Glen Robson.

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 Northumberland coast.

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Her 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.

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 plan is a 10-mile solo swim in Lake Windermere in September.

Gill said: “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!

“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.”