Guernsey is a unique and beautiful island. If you look at it on the map, it is such a small dot you can hardly see it. But zoom in closer and you recognise its wonders and beauty. Dig a little deeper than that and you get to know some pretty incredible people who quietly do their own thing without even realising that their small gestures mean so much to others.
Min Henry will tell you herself that she is uncomfortable in the spotlight. However, we’re shining ours on her this issue in recognition of the incredible work she has done supporting islanders and the huge difference she is making just by being her. Min set up a Facebook page for sea swimmers to join together and support each other, both in and out of the water. It has grown to such an extent that it's almost the norm to don your bathers, regardless of the season, and enjoy what Guernsey has in abundance - the sea! We grabbed Min for a chat about her wonderful group, Guernsey Swim All Seasons(GSAS), her motivation for helping others, and the importance of safeguarding mental health for all islanders.
Some people are born givers, while others learn the art of giving through adversity but, for Min, giving back is something that she grew up with. ‘I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by givers all my life and it is a good foundation to remember not always to put yourself in the centre. As a family, we have been so rewarded, by seeing how much of a difference you can make, particularly to those living in the third world, where people’s backs are truly up against the wall.’
Closer to home, it’s this spirit of giving and support that led Min to launch her own sea swimming group, GSAS, offering a safe space for people from all walks of life to come together to embrace the myriad of benefits associated with this special island pastime. Min explains her own swimming journey, ‘During my first 50 plus years of life, I was a very nervous swimmer and my ability was poor. Even as an adult, I would only swim out of my depth with a board float, especially on foreign holidays. ’She continues, ‘Sea swimming had definitely increased my lung strength and I have built up steadily my distance and can now swim without a board for twenty or so minutes of constant swimming. Mentally the benefits cannot be ignored - the sea envelopes you and is so calming. After a winter swim the endorphins really do kick in and it gives you an incredible natural high. If you see me skipping or jumping coming back up the beach after a cold swim, you will realise that the inner child has been released!
Min founded the group during Covid when many islanders were struggling with their mental health. As she explains, ‘I had swum through one winter with two work colleagues, who were seasoned winter swimmers. As my second winter was starting, I had just finished a solo swim at Pembroke Bay, sitting warming up with a coffee and thinking how amazing it had made me feel. It’s like a secret - until you have experienced winter swimming, it’s something you cannot describe. While still on the beach, I started making the Facebook page and the rest is history.’
The group prides itself on being entirely inclusive. ‘GSAS is a group of like-minded people, who enjoy sea swimming all year round,’ says Min. ‘People don’t arrive at a swim with a label, we are a fabulous mix of genders, professions, shapes, sizes, and swimming abilities. In a media world where everyone is encouraged to be a better self, GSAS says “come, be yourself”, let the sea enrich you naturally, mind and body. My hope is for us to continue to meet people, just where they are in life. Offer friendship, laughter, and encouragement, to all who want to join with us on this amazing swim journey.’
From such humble beginnings, Min has received widespread recognition or the support she has offered so many, culminating in a Pride of Guernsey Award earlier this year, something which Min is typically humble about. ‘I am generally uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. I suppose I didn’t really ever see GSAS becoming what it has. Now I am finding myself more in the media, talking about the group. I was incredibly proud to receive the award. For me, it was as much for all the people who make up GSAS, who have overcome challenges and the camaraderie we all feel.’
Min has always been a proactive campaigner for safeguarding mental health. Now, through the group, she has frequent, first-hand accounts about how much of a difference this kind of support can make. ‘I am privileged to hear many stories weekly from our members, on their struggles with mental health’, she explains. ‘There are some amazing people out there, just like you and me, dealing with grief, loneliness, depression, social anxiety, body image anxiety, and much more. It is very emotional to hear the words “sea swimming has saved me”. I know from many years of supporting families with mental health, that people do feel let down with professional support, which at times has not been there. Supporting the community to find space to breathe and regroup mentally has to be a priority.’
Thanks to Min and her wonderful group, that space to breathe and be yourself has clearly offered a lifeline to so many islanders, come rain or shine. Long may it continue.
For more information on Guernsey Swim All Season (GSAS) visit Facebook.