It’s Friday afternoon, and Dr. Julie Bradshaw is just finishing “an absolutely mad week.” That’s not surprising – besides being a life coach, swim coach, motivational speaker, certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming trainer, and part-time university lecturer, she’s an accomplished open water swimmer who recently wrapped a record-breaking fundraising relay in Lake Windermere, England’s largest. An eclectic CV, perhaps, but it’s unified by a confidence, curiosity, and sense of responsibility that, as her own achievements indicate, can benefit anyone in any discipline.
Here are a few takeaways that we’ll remember from our conversation with Julie:
1. Find Internal and External Motivation.
Two things motivate her: personal challenges and helping others. Personally, she’s inspired “to achieve something no person has ever done,” such as her record-setting triple-crossing of Loch Ness in 2005. “I always like to have goals,” she says unassumingly.
As for aiding others, Julie started at age 15, when her first English Channel crossing raised money to help establish Trinity Hospice. (She’s still in touch with its founder, Dr. David Cooper.) A separate contest – “Guess the time of the Channel swim!” – raised money for her school to purchase a minibus.
Her most recent Windermere relay is still raising funds for Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People; she dedicated her legs of the swim to the memory of her friend, Susan Taylor, who died last year during an English Channel crossing, also to benefit Rainbows. “It’s nice, if you’ve got skills, to use them for a good purpose.”
2. Keep it Close to Home.
They say home is where the heart is, so it follows that our most impassioned achievements would play out there. Julie often returns to the waters of Lake Windermere, which she considers "a second home." “Lake Windermere is where I started all of my swimming” on holidays with her family. Unfortunately, it’s more than three hours from her primary residence; to stay in marathon-swimming condition, she installed an Endless Pool in her home garden some 10 years ago.
“It’s ideal for me,” she says. When training for “longer endurance swims,” she can “simulate it in my Endless Pool” – swimming against the pool’s smooth current closely resembles the waves of open water, she feels, and the lack of required flip-turns builds endurance.
Mostly, she prizes her Endless Pool for its convenience. “Where I live [Loughborough, centrally positioned in Great Britain], it’s very difficult to find open water. … It’s a great time saver. I would never dream of going to the [public] pool for half an hour.” But having the Endless Pool in her garden makes frequent quick swims possible.
She also likes the adjustable speed; she can quicken the pace for freestyle, and then slow it down for butterfly, often considered the most challenging stroke and the one for which she’s best known. She swam butterfly exclusively on many swims, including her record-breaking circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in 2011 and a 2006 crossing of Ireland’s Lough Erne.
3. Try New Things.
Julie recently coached an accomplished musician for an open-water swim to benefit muscular dystrophy research. Despite the musician’s professional achievements, the swim “improved her confidence. She was able to believe in herself” in a new realm. Julie also sees benefit in that the new discipline “let her empathize” with others who struggle to learn a new skill.
4. Believe in Yourself.
Want to identify the biggest obstacle to your goals? Do what Julie does: look in the mirror. “If I can’t do something,” she observes, “it’s me that prevents me from doing it.”
5. Don’t Bother About Numbers.
Julie turned 50 earlier this year, and she shows no signs of slowing down. Of her milestone birthday, she remarks, “I don’t feel any different. … Some people bother about numbers. I don’t.”
When asked how many World Records she’s broken, she says she’s “lost count.” Her website reports 23; this month’s Windermere relay brings her total to 27, even though it fell short of the planned 14 legs. About half-a-mile into the 10th leg, one team member collapsed. “Obviously, it’s disappointing,” she says matter-of-factly. “At the end of the day, safety was paramount. We had to call it off.” Clearly, she's less concerned about this month's shortfall than about all she and her team members can achieve in the years to come.
6. Swim More.
What can you learn from swimming? “Teamwork springs to mind,” Julie says without hesitation. (Many of biggest swims have been relays.) She also cites determination, focus, and motivation as key life lessons developed in the water which carry over onto dry land.
With an Honorary Doctorate and an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), both conferred in honor of her swimming and fundraising, they seem to be lessons both hard learned and well utilized.