Tony Pick - My journey back

“100 Days” sounds like the beginning of a challenge designed for social media but Tony Pick’s mission isn’t a hashtag or grandiose need to prove something, it is a lifeline.

TONY PICK - Swimming

Only six months ago, Tony’s life was limited to lying in bed. Amid overwhelming stress and coping with grief, the sudden and severe onset of a back injury rendered Tony practically immobile. “It wasn’t just the injury,” Tony explains, “it’s that I also felt so ill”. Life changed fast and for someone who exercised almost every day for fifteen years, Tony says, “Not doing was hard.”

Whether it was swimming, cycling, running, or all three together in a triathlon, Tony, a photographer by trade, always made exercise part of every day. Prior to his back injury (and lockdown), Tony would swim almost every morning in the sea with a group of 20 other swimmers. “We aren’t a club, just a group of mates,” he smiles. “We usually swim for 15-30 minutes and then have a coffee together”. He jokes the social coffee afterwards is the only reason he really swims but it’s easy to see deep down there is a special connection between Tony and the water.


Meeting up with friends to swim is pretty normal but here’s the catch: the water of the North Sea in winter where Tony and his friends swim is a bone-chilling 4-6 degrees Celsius. Most people wouldn’t dream of dipping a toe in water that cold, let alone swim, but Tony lights up when he’s talking single digits. “You get such a buzz from cold water. The colder the better!”


In November, after almost 3 months at home in pain, Tony was just able to drive himself back down to the beach to watch his friends jump in the sea for their morning swim. At first, Tony only sat on the beach, dreaming of spring when he thought he might be well enough to swim again. “I was still in a really dark place,” he admits, noting he was on a lot of painkillers still. “I never thought I would get out of it. I couldn’t see an end.” But Tony came back the next day, and, with extra encouragement from two of his fellow swimmers, Rob and Justin, an idea came: “Maybe I’ll just get in.” That little curious thought of possibility was just enough the break open the darkness.

Walking was still painful, but Tony hobbled over the pebbles and into the water. He wasn’t able to swim but the cold temperatures eased his pain, increased his mobility, and, he says with an undertone of relief, “I just felt better”. In the past, Tony had always worn a wetsuit but, since his injury made it impossible to put one it on, he had to leave the wetsuit behind. Each day he came back to the beach and over time built back up to the fifteen-minute mark. “I was nowhere near where I was, but I was getting there slowly.”


Soon, Tony wasn’t dreaming of spring, he was thinking of the next day. Swimming had channeled his mind away from the negativity and gave him a positive outlook. The daily motivation to keep swimming created a sense of momentum and, after four weeks, life had changed again—for the better. Tony set the goal of 50 consecutive cold open water swims but, he says with a hint of a smile, “then someone mentioned 100.”

February 27th will mark Tony’s 100th cold water swim. It is hard to imagine how his life was so different only a few months ago; but, for Tony it’s still a vivid reality and part of the reason why he openly talks about how swimming helped him cope and overcome his situation. “I’m grateful to share my story because I know there are so many people struggling with mental health. I just want to spread a bit of positivity and show there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Things could have turned out very differently, but”— Tony lifts his body language and continues with a confident sense of hope— “then there swimming.”