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23 Feb 2017
Swim Sisters Collaboration
Inspiring women from all backgrounds, walks of life, fitness levels, shapes and sizes to go for a swim.
“Yusra Metwally, leader of the group ‘Swim Sisters’ shares her story on how she embarked on her swimming journey by encouraging like-minded women to join her in rediscovering the joys of swimming and enjoying the challenges of ocean swimming”.
Like many people, I started the year with good intentions and New Year resolutions to get active by focusing on mastering the art of swimming whilst working towards an ocean swim, with a vision to eventually train up to my bucket list goal of entering a triathlon competition.
Growing up, I have fond memories of swimming in pools over the warmer months to splash out. Over the summer,, we would swiftly swap our school uniforms for our cossies and head to our local swimming pool. Somewhere along the way, the swimming pool became an uncomfortable and unwelcoming place and as a result, it became a place I ventured into very little. Funnily enough, last year something changed – the widely reported, though somewhat short-lived Burkini ban in France got me back into the water again. Something about those images of armed policemen at a beach interrupting a woman’s seaside siesta because of the clothes she wore ignited a flame within me. Suddenly, I appreciated the liberties I had in Australia to swim in whatever I chose to wear, and realised that I wasn't making the most out of such liberties.
My reaction to the ban involved a late-night Facebook status with a crazy idea to declare that I would form a swimming team called the Burkini Babes (now called Swim Sisters). My journalist friend, Sarah Malik picked up on this on her newsfeed, and recommended me to write an opinion piece for USA Today. Soon, the promise was within an International newspaper and I had no choice but to follow up on my commitment. With a Facebook group and a WhatsApp group, the Swim Sisters squad was born.
In hindsight, the ban resonated strongly with me because I too have experienced the feeling of being policed at swimming pools from a young age. France’s Burkini ban saga took me back to Egypt as a 9-year-old, where I lived with my family. On a scorching hot Egyptian summer day, I was looking forward to a delightful treat at the end of the day, swimming at the school swimming pool. My classmates wore a one-piece swimsuit, while I wore my blue rash shirt with floral printed sleeves and shorts that I regularly wore back in Australia. To my utter shock and dismay, the teacher looked at me and pointed at my classmates to tell me that I couldn’t swim in “those” clothes. I was distraught as I sat on a bench sizzling in the heat, watching my classmates have a great time (ultimate FOMO experience)!
After I put on a Hijab in high school, it was very challenging to find the right clothing to wear. I recollect being pulled aside by the pool guard at the Olympic Park pools on one occasion to point out that my clothing wasn't appropriate (as it wasn't Lycra material). Looking back, I don’t think I got back into a swimming pool for many years after that experience, apart from pool parties at friends’ houses. I eased myself back into the water when I discovered McIver's Baths in Coogee, Australia’s last remaining women's-only seawater pool. As an adult, I attended WimSwim adult women swimming lessons at Roselands pools to reacquaint myself with the skills I lost from an extended hiatus from the pool.
I finally returned to a swimming pool after deciding to join my manager on his walk to the iconic North Sydney swimming pool at lunch time, located a short walk from our office and it was here that I rediscovered the therapeutic power of swimming. The post-swim feeling of refreshment and renewal took away the afternoon slump and before I knew it, I was hooked!
The Swim Sisters began as a great way to round up my friends who were keen to go swimming but didn’t get around to it, and to train for an ocean swim. When I began to share the group with my networks, Swim Sisters inadvertently brought a bunch of like-minded women from different walks of life, fitness abilities, shapes and sizes. We all have one thing in common – the group, a welcoming swimming sisterhood has given us so much more than what we signed up for. The women all have their own stories to share.
Gina grew up on Byron Bay and only put on Hijab recently. Training with the group gave her the confidence to go out and swim again. Fadila is the group’s resident swimming instructor who has assisted the girls with revising the basics of swimming and stroke correction during our weekly indoor pool session. The three D sisters - Danielle, Dima and Dina have grown up with swimming a part of their lives, and had their own experience in France where they were turned away from the swimming pool due to wearing singlets and shorts (during their pre-Hijab days) as opposed to wearing a one-piece costume or bikini. As a French born national of Moroccan heritage, Hannane joined the group in solidarity with her French sisters in response to the Burkini ban. Claire, Alex and Meltem attended squad swimming training as children that turned them off the smell of chlorine. Claire, a Uruguayan Australian who doesn’t wear Hijab reflects, “having broken my mother’s heart when she realised I wouldn’t go to any Olympic Games ever, I’m back staring at the black line”.
We trained at local swimming pools around South Western Sydney and introduced weekly ocean swim training on the weekends. A few months on, we have collectively entered three ocean swimming events so far: the 500m South Maroubra Clearwater Classic, the 1km North Bondi Classic and the Malabar Magic - where the girls fundraised over $1,500 for the Rainbow Club to teach children with a disability to learn how to swim. Our next challenge is the Cronulla Shark Island Swim and Sydney Harbour Splash Swim, and we are now setting our sights on a Swim Sisters adventure to the Whitehaven Hamilton Island ocean swim!
Finding out that the iconic Speedo has started making a new modesty swimwear range was so exciting to learn. Everyone should be free to swim with as little or as much fabric they choose to swim in, giving equal access to Sydney’s beautiful beaches and iconic pools. When I returned to swim at the Olympic Park pool and saw the Speedo clock, I was able to finally move my negative experience aside and enjoy getting on with the swimming. The passion and love of the water is not limited by our backgrounds, shapes or sizes. It provides a universal language of sportsmanship and respect, whilst moulding our fitness and building our confidence to achieve a common goal.
This week, Speedo hosted the Swim Sisters at their Bondi Junction store and outfitted them all with the various modesty suits they offer.
With Speedo’s overall mission to inspire all Australians to swim and to grow the sport of swimming, Swim Sisters is the perfect collaboration to enable more Australian’s - regardless of gender, culture, modesty and sun protection requirements - to swim.
Speedo’s new modesty swimsuit range provides all women in Australia the opportunity to participate in the sport of swimming without barriers. The range, consisting of a swim dress, swim pant, swim legging, swim hood and swim tunic is available here, at exclusive Speedo stores and selected retailers.
Our commitment to the Planet and its People
70% of our beautiful planet is water. We’re on a journey to protect our heartland for the people who love to swim in it.
Speedo Wetsuit range reviewed by Ironman Champion Kendrick Louis
All you need to know about your new ocean swim essential.