WIN OUTDOOR FOUNDATION
My name is Winnie Poaty. I am an African-British open water swimmer, a qualified lifeguard and an advocate for self-care, self-love, mental wellness and diversity in open spaces.
I live in the Lake District and I’m a business owner, selling clothes at my store in Kendal – Iluvmemost.
I grew up in the Congo, in the coastal town of Pointe Noire, we lived close to the sea and yet we were not allowed to be near it as we didn’t know how to swim. Historically, our community experienced a surplus of deaths through drowning, so swimming or being near the water was forbidden.
Athough I could not swim when I was in Congo, I have always felt a deep connection with water.
Over twenty years ago I moved to England, started a family, eventually moved to The Lake District.
It wasn’t easy, though I pushed through and managed to make a life for my daughters and me.
Upon moving to the UK, I also discovered that I suffered from depression, back home I knew things were not right with me, though I didn’t know what it was.
It was only when I moved to The Lake District that I began to try and learn to swim, it wasn’t easy for me and took me several years to feel confident in the water.
I began running around the Lakes for my mental and physical health; I would often see people swimming and during the summer, I started to open water swim – it became so important.
Overcoming my nerves and the feeling of being different was a journey of self-discovery within itself. A black girl swimming is something of a novelty it seems – I was often the only person of colour in the lake – certainly the only regular person I saw. However, I have some great friends, the wild swimming community is so friendly and welcoming and this has helped me. At first, I thought open water swimming was only for the summer, it made me sad to stop as cold winter months crept in.
Although I would see winter swimmers, for some reason it never occurred to me a black person could do it also, I used to limit myself. It was only when I got injured from running that I realised I could try swimming in the winter. This honestly, instantly changed my life for the better.
Through swimming, I have discovered a whole new life full of possibilities.
There is a fierce yet peaceful and beautiful place to be found in the water and it’s a place that both awakens my spirit and feeds my soul.
My swimming journey continues to feed and inspire me and others, it has empowered me to try and achieve more.
The Win Outdoor Foundation:
As I continued my swimming journey, I noticed that like in Africa, black British people rarely swim at all, likewise in the USA. In fact, it appears that this is very much a global issue. This seems strange to me as I have gained so much from being outdoors, in nature, in the lake; with all its fierce, wild, beauty.
As I explored life in the great outdoors, I noticed that not many ethnic groups existed in these spaces.
As I explored ways to cope with my mental health, away from my GP’s chair I also noticed that as in Africa, Mental Health does not get talked about. For the black community, it is almost a taboo subject.
My hopes and dreams are to help black, brown and low-income families to swim and also access the goodness of the outdoors. I want to help those struggling with their mental health access the outdoors.
There is so much more than swimming though. Climbing, kayaking, paddle boarding, Fell walking etc… are life skills once you discover how to safely do them.
The Win Outdoor Foundation is the vehicle, the dream I am going to use to help others to explore, grow, reflect, connect.
This is the very first step in creating that dream, it’s a wobbly baby step, but I can’t wait to take that step with you.