Swimming is a life-saving skill, and an enjoyable pastime which many of us take for granted. The weightless sensation, warmth and incredible sense of wellbeing which comes from getting active in a pool, is something which is enjoyed by millions of people across the UK every day.
However, many South Asian women cannot swim, and BBC Radio Leicester’s Summaya Mughal was one of them. Until recently at least…
Growing up as a Pakistani Muslim, the skill was something which was never actively encouraged by members of the presenter’s family, due to barriers brought about by her faith and culture, including those around modesty.
However last year, at the age of 27, Summaya decided to take the plunge and learn how to swim, not only for herself, but other members of the South Asian community who might be held back by those same barriers.
The result is better mental health and the birth of a popular new podcast called ‘Brown Gal Can’t Swim.’
“I hope it empowers people, not only to swim, but to do that thing that they’ve been putting off for ages,” said Summaya of the six part series, which is available on BBC Sounds.
“I spent over two decades of my life hiding the fact that I couldn’t swim, due to fear and embarrassment. It’s not a nice experience, but at the same time ‘Brown Gal Can’t Swim’ has been the most incredible thing to have come out of that,” she went on to reveal.
“Despite me not having those skills, I decided to do something about it, not only for me personally, but also for others in the community and anyone else who’s embarrassed about not being able to swim.
“It’s about normalising the fact that there are so many people who don’t have this skill -a skill that could save your life, and that is a problem,” she added.
As part of her podcast, Summaya aims to break down misconceptions about swimming and to encourage other members of the South Asian community to take the plunge.
As part of her own swimming journey, she enlisted the help of four time Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington, who set her the challenge of learning the skill in eight weeks. She was then tasked with putting it into action by swimming 500 metres in open water.
It was a feat which Summaya completed at Nottingham’s Spring Lakes last October. And she hasn’t looked back since…
“I absolutely love swimming and try to do it once a week,” she told Pukaar.
“It’s funny because until recently, this was a thing which used to cause me so much fear and anxiety. Now whenever I get in the pool, I feel like an absolute boss because I’ve conquered those things.
“In fact, when I’m swimming I’m at my most peaceful and it’s the most beautiful thing. It forces you to stop – you can’t be on your phone!” she pointed out.
“You have to pace yourself and focus on your breathing, so it’s great for your mental health.
“Me and anxiety are actual besties, but swimming really helps. Now I don’t know how I ever went without it.”
Listen to ‘Brown Gal Can’t Swim’ at: www.bbc.co.uk/sounds
By Louise Steel