History of the BLDSA Postal Swim

M Ferguson Picture

The first British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA) "Postal Swim" was organised in 1981 by Roger and Valerie Parsons, who at that time were both members of the Executive Committee of the BLDSA. Roger and Valerie decided to invested £500 of their own money in an idea that would included swimmers form both home and overseas, the "Postal Swim". At that time Valerie was also the International Secretary and had been an International swimmers for a number of years. The idea of the postal swim was to help raise the profile of the BLDSA and also to improve the funding raising capabilities as at that time a number of the members of the Executive Committee were subsidising the association out of their own pockets, with many of the open water championships operating at a loss.

That first event was a great success, and it attracted approximately 1500 swimmers from all over the world. When the swim was completed both Val and Roger had the onerous task of manually sorting the swimmers, into the various categories that you see today, by sex and age group which varies from under 10's to over 85's. Prior to the event there was the original mail shot and after the closing date the production of the results, engraving of the medals and distribution of the medals and badges. The "Postal Swim" was organised again in 1982, and due to the sucess of the previous year the number of swimmers increased to 1700. Val and Roger were also finding that sorting the results was almost impossible whilst running their own business, serving on the Executive Committee and Val acting as the International Secretary!

During the period 1983 to 1985 Ron and Melanie Evans administered the "Postal Swim", and the number of swimmers increased to around 2000 and the task of sorting the results was proving to be too much, and in the end they decided to withdraw from the work. In order to continue with the "Postal Swim" Val again took on the job in 1986 and with the help of Maurice Ferguson they ran the swim for that year. Maurice's part was to enter the results into a data base on his BBC computer and have a programme specially written to sort the results into the different categories. Whilst his slow computer chugged away for an hour or two, sorting the results, Maurice would go and watch television. The results could then be printed directly from the computer, saving endless hours of manual sorting and typing as in the previous years.

Maurice then took over as the Postal Swim Secretary in 1987 and ran it for the next eight years until 1994. An investment was made in 1990 in the form of a new computer, which considerably reduced the time required to sort the results. During this time the numbers of entries increased further to maximum of approximately 2500 swimmers, however they then reduced over several years to an average of around 1500 entries.

At about the same time Maurice decided to investigate the possibility of introducing separate categories for disabled entrants. Up to then only a few had been taking part, competing on equal terms with able bodied competitors. After seeking separate advice and due to the complexities involved in categorising disabled athletes, it was decided to use only three categories. The introduction of these categories proved to be a success and it has continued to this day, with the issue of medals for each age group and disability being the same as for able bodied swimmers. The disabled swimmers are shown in the sections covering their particular age group and disability whilst still being listed in their age groups along with able-bodied swimmers.

In 1995 Jim Nurse took up to the mantle of Postal Swim Secretary and continued with the good work, and he looked after the interests of the postal swim for a further five yeaers. During this period of time another computer was obtained which further reduced the sorting time to approximately seven minutes. However this was the result of many hours of inputing swimmers details. Jim had no computer skills when he started as Postal Swim Secretary and in order to improve he went to night school to learn touch-type, and with plenty of support from Maurice learned to use the in use database. In Jim's early endeavours one of his cats also helped, by jumping on the keyboard, crashing the computer and losing a full evenings work! It was suggested that the solution to this type of problem would be to strangle the cat!

In 2000 Chris Byrne took over the roll of Postal Swim Secretary and introduced the "Access" database that is still used today. At this time a special programme was written which sorted and placed each swimmer into the relevant category, as it was being typed into the computer. Information technology had assisted in sending entry forms via e-mail around the world at the click of a button. The postal swim web site www.postalswim.com further enhanced the event as entry forms were available on line and the result of the swim were published on line within a few weeks of the closing date. A further improvement, at least for the secretary,s family, was the acquisition of a laptop computer, which allowed Chris to sit in the lounge with his family whilst entering all the data for each year's event. Unfortunately it does not sort and pack envelopes plus all the other myriad of jobs outlined below.

A few statistics are in order about now:

All of us who have taken on the responsibility of Postal Swim Secretary owe a special debt of gratitude to our partners and families for putting up with the disruption caused whilst we look after the event. Without their active cooperation especially during the mail shots, when the entire house seems to be covered in paper and envelopes in various stages of labelling and filling, the event could not take place.

From the day of its inception until today the Postal Swim has always welcomed entries from overseas. Over the years, entries have been received from all over the world, a few which readily come to mind being: Australia, USA, India, Germany, Canada, France, Egypt, Italy, Holland and Greece. We welcome any participants from any part of the world to take part in what was the first, and still is the premier, Postal Swim in this country.

M. Ferguson 2003