Heather sees the way for her charity swim

Warwick resident, Heather Clatworthy is about to realise a life-long dream and it’s going to be made a little easier after she finally took the plunge and corrected her poor vision.

Having always enjoyed an active lifestyle and being a keen swimmer, Heather is attempting to swim 13 miles from Moville in Donegal, Ireland to Portstewart in Northern Ireland, across the mouth of the Foyle and Bann Rivers.  The swim hasn’t been officially completed since 1929 and Heather, who grew up in Portstewart, cannot wait to give it her best shot in July.

By completing the swim she will raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) Portrush and the Portstewart Outdoor Recreation Fund.

Although wearing contact lenses hasn’t got in the way of her training schedule, Heather is very relieved that she can attempt the swim knowing that a wave won’t knock her goggles off, causing her to lose a lens!

Heather, 33, says: “I’ve worn glasses since I was 10 and contact lenses since I was 15. Although I am grateful that I have been able to see clearly since then, my love of the outdoors has raised certain challenges and I won’t be sad to see the back of them! Being able to see clearly when I swim will be amazing! And not having to worry about rain and mud on my glasses when I am land training will be great too.”

With the swim due to take place on 27 July 2016, Heather decided to finally have the laser treatment she had wanted for years. Having visited several high street companies but been unimpressed, it was her mother-in-law who pointed her in the direction of Optegra Eye Hospital Birmingham.

Heather continues: “I turned up to a lovely modern building and immediately met with friendly, relaxed staff who put me at ease. After a few eye tests, I met the surgeon who would be carrying out the procedure, which was fantastic. He was willing to spend the time answering my questions and discussing options, and I didn’t feel pushed or rushed. Because I had already done a lot of research, I decided to go for it and booked in for five weeks later!”

Eye surgeon Mr Mark Wevill, from Optegra Eye Hospital Birmingham, was Heather’s consultant. He says: “Heather told me all about the swim she was training for. I treat many patients who have active, sporting lives, so I understand the specific challenges this can bring when wearing glasses and lenses. Heather’s prescription was only -3.5 in each eye so I was confident that LASEK laser eye surgery would enable her to be glasses free.”

The hardest part for Heather was not being able to wear lenses for two weeks before the surgery. “I rely a lot on my lenses, particularly as I am training so hard at the moment”, she says. “It meant I had to wear glasses for running (they slid down my nose), for hot yoga (they fell off my face when I was upside down) and nothing at all for swimming. This is not good when in a busy lane of people, only able to see one person’s length in front of me and not being able to see the clock! It certainly reinforced my desire to get the surgery done.

“As soon as the laser procedure was over, I had to stop myself high fiving the team. I sat and looked at everything around me – I could see faces, details in pictures hanging on the wall and read signs. It was an amazing feeling of elation. Strangely enough, it was also very calming – spending your day squinting at things isn’t relaxing at all and perhaps my face might have fewer wrinkles now too! One of the loveliest things is seeing my children’s faces first thing in the morning or during the night, without having to find my glasses – I can see their freckles close up and that means a lot.”

Heather is now able to continue training hard for her swim, with the benefit of perfect vision. As she lives inland, she has spent the winter training in lakes, rivers and Olympic sized pools, but as the weather warms up and the evenings are longer, she is looking forward to long stints in the sea and really putting her new sight to the test.

She says, “Swimming in open water allows you one second to take a snapshot of where you are going. If you don’t get a good look, you go off in the wrong direction very easily. Six weeks after surgery, I swam in the moonlight on a 12 hour overnight swim. The sky was magical to see from the water – I haven’t been able to see that before.”

Since the surgery, Heather has been able to see tiny features like blue/purple forget-me-nots whilst out running, which she hasn’t seen for years. It enhances and enriches the outdoors even more. She believes her eyesight is actually better now than when she was a child.

“I tell everyone I meet to just do it, don’t wait. I wish I had done it sooner! Taking the step to laser my eyes wasn’t a quick one, but I wanted to see my children grow up and enjoy the benefits of ‘seeing with my own eyes’! It is perfect timing for my swim and when I’m training, every now and then I stop and take my goggles off, and just take in the beautiful coastline and horizon. Mark and his team are incredibly gifted and I feel so honoured to have been able to have my sight restored (and upgraded I think!) to enjoy a fuller life.”

To donate towards Heather’s swim or follow her swimblog please visit www.swimforportstewart.com or follow her at www.facebook.com/heatherclatworthy or on Twitter @Seaswimheather


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