Desert Island Valley – Stories of endurance from Ms Ward

Desert Island Valley – Stories of endurance from Ms Ward

3 February 2021

In our continuing series during lockdown, when it can seem like we are each marooned on our ‘lockdown desert island’, we’re taking inspiration from the BBC’s long running radio series Desert Island Discs asking a member of staff to share what book he or she would take to their desert island and why.

This week, Ms Bridget Ward, Deputy Head (Operations), makes her selection and explains her reasons.

I have always loved reading, a passion instilled in me from a very young age. After studying English at A Level and enjoying the likes of King Lear and Richard III and the works of Chaucer, my Senior School prize was a book about Philip Larkin, still on my bookshelf at home today. But in considering what book I would now take onto my desert island, I’ve moved a long way from the writers of my Sixth Form years.

Whittling down my book choices, I started with a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, called ‘The Invitation’, which starts: ’I do not want to know what you do for a living’  and ends with ‘I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep.’

As an ex-athlete and somebody who still participates in a range of endurance events, I look to books or words to inspire me.

Endurance sport gives you the time to be alone, lost in your thoughts, with your mind challenging you, asking so many questions about yourself.  Being an endurance athlete can be a lonely experience. It’s ‘you versus you’, with only your mind and body against the elements and distance. A book that helped before my channel crossing swim in 2015 was ‘Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen’  by Christopher McDougall. It showed me the incredible capacity of the human body and the innate ability we have to do extraordinary things. 

Why is ‘Born to Run’ important to me? My own journey as a human and as an athlete are entwined. I strive to be the best person I can be, often falling short, stumbling, yet getting back up to simply try again. Exactly the same as any endurance endeavour and what, as teachers, we often say to our students.

The channel swim, and many other sporting events over the years, taught me that there is so much more in all of us.  Any challenge that requires you to teach your body to deal with hypothermia for 14 hours whilst swimming appears slightly odd. This is especially true for the Channel swim with tankers and ferries passing you. Yet, such endeavours teach us that something which seems remarkable is in fact an incremental journey of immersing yourself in a world of trust (other athletes) and development. You can endure things that seem impossible and even turn such events into huge positives.

It is no coincidence that life is the same. ‘Born to Run’ shows us that we really are remarkable beings and it gave me the drive and the desire so see what my limits are. It made me realise that there really are no limits to the incremental journey that is your life.

Individual sports, such as channel swimming, are really a fallacy. As with anything in life, ‘an individual sport’ is a team sport. My channel swim was not just about me.  It was about the team, the preparation and support from coaches, the boat pilot who navigates the route to avoid ferries, and the boat crew who throw food and water as the swimmer must never touch the boat. Your family, friends, partner and dog who travel with you all over the country to ensure you reach your qualifying swims or just comfort you when your mouth and tongue are peeling away due to salt abrasion!

Born to Run’ reminds me of the honesty and integrity of such rudimentary sports as endurance swimming and running, where the only reward is intrinsic, simply an achievement for yourself.

It is the same in life. If you approach life with honesty and integrity and incremental improvement, you really can’t go wrong. You might stumble or fall or take on salt water. But, if you are willing to get back up and try again, the same intrinsic reward awaits you. The peace in knowing you are the best version of yourself.

‘Born to Run’, and the experiences linked to it, allow me to grow and know that I can sit alone with myself and truly like the company I keep, which takes me straight back to ‘The Invitation’ poem where I started.