“I am human, the same as every other person, I am as powerful and kind and able as every other person. I can. I will. I am! I am the creator of my own future, the pioneer in my own adventure story.” – Beth French
From wheel chair bound to world class athlete, self employed single mum, Beth French, stretches the horizons of her own possibilities, tackling seemingly impossible feats of endurance and adventure.
Overcoming ME and debilitation at 17, she forged a path to ultimate health her own way, studying around the world, including time spent ordained in a Thai Buddhist monastery. In 2012 she set out to swim the English Channel to prove to her son, who is high-functioning autistic, that anything is possible. After completing the English Channel she later became the first person ever to swim from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly, against the current.
She is now challenging perceived limits by attempting a world first. This time, to take on Oceans 7- seven of the toughest swims on the planet: a list only completed by 6 people to date, and she is going to do them all in a single year.
Beth, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! What are you finding really exciting in the world of adventure at the moment?
The momentum that women are getting and the exposure that women are out there doing it, but just maybe haven’t been heard of before. Now, we are talking more, blogging more, being seen more. We are not doing more, we are being seen doing it. Across the board, adventure is gaining traction as a lifestyle, for families and women more than ever. This I find really exciting!
We couldn’t agree more! You’ve done some amazing things, what is the last thing you did that you never want to forget?
I feel so fortunate to be spending this year truly on my dream year. The last thing I did was spend the last few days in the Abel Tasman national park with my son, hiking and swimming in incredible seas together. Sharing adventure with him is such a blessing. We let our plane take off and have used the last 2 weeks to helihike on glaciers, explore our surroundings and sharing everything about the process of winging it with him is awesome. I don’t ever want to forget talking it through and seeing just how much an 8year old grasps and tackles head on.
It must be incredible being able to share your experiences with your son. Tell us, what does it mean to you to be able to fill your life with adventure?
To me, adventure is a way of seeing the world. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t adventuring. I was fortunate to grow up in the middle of nowhere with lots of ‘freedoms’ so climbing trees, going off on my pony across hills and moors and building dens to sleep out in was just normal. Now, talking about my experiences is a whole new adventure, something that challenges me and makes me grow. It is my life blood, this way of seeing the world. Being a single mum and the physical journey I have been on, recovering and living with ME has made my life an ever changing adventure. It’s a blessing to see the world this way and I wake up grateful for the challenge of seeing adventure in the ordinary.
What an amazing way to view life. You are constantly overcoming your fears and achieving great things, what does it feel like when you complete a challenge or a project?
Completing a project is an odd one, in the immediate, when I reach the far shore of a channel, I am disoriented, disillusioned and often slightly disappointed. I set myself challenges that are only barely possible – often seen that way because they have never been attempted or achieved – and getting there, the sensation that it’s over is confusing. I remember finishing a swim that I thought would be one that I would take numerous attempts at and thinking “surely I can’t be here already.” The team get euphoric, but often for me, relief is tinged with despair that I have nothing to pour myself into. Triumph is sometimes just the relief at not hurting anymore! Its only after a few days that genuine pride and triumph at what I have achieved kicks in. I always try to have something lined up; a trip or something to focus on beyond the end. The life lessons I learn in the depths of the channels stay with me and those I cherish.
You are a role model to women everywhere, but who is your inspiration?
It may sound corny but my son is a daily inspiration. He is high-functioning autistic and we have been on our own since he turned two-years-old. I have ended up homeschooling him and it’s all because he calls my bluff, priorities and our level of coping are so subjective. He has shifted my perspective from how can I possibly do that, to how can I possibly live with myself if I dont? Learning to communicate clearly and calmly and interpret the world has allowed me to be calmer and clearer and he makes me raise my game always. My proudest moment was not reaching French shores on my first ever channel swim, it was reaching France and making it back in time to put Dylan to bed. My life is an adventure – which includes these physical feats, not separate from it. It is our real life and our daily life.
We learn from our mistakes and they have the ability to improve us. What would you say to a person who is scared of making mistakes?
Mistakes make us human. Most avoid mistakes because they feel others will judge them, that twisted gut feeling when we make a faux pas is the assumption that others think badly of us, so we torture ourselves and then end up avoiding trying anything new and never straying from our comfort zone. But nothing stays still, if we dont stretch the edges of our comfort zone, exercise our muscles of trying, they atrophy and shrink more and more so it gets harder. Be kind to yourself, gently accept that practice runs help us, learning happens most effectively from personal experience.
Such amazing advice! So what would you say to someone who is settling for what they do?
Settling into our comfort zone may feel like being kind to yourself, but without exercising the muscles of the mind and heart, as well as the body, we grow less able to cope with life in general. We cannot avoid life encroaching on our safe haven, as life constantly throws curve balls at us. Adventure allows us to practice being resourceful, allows us to stretch our ideas of what is possible for us. Building stronger walls around our little piece of comfort sits us down, pushing against them means we have a bigger area we are comfortable in. We know how to handle ourselves in a wider range of situations. The simple act of finding what we believe in and defining it for others to see gives direction for everything we do. We are more ourselves and so life moves more smoothly because we are clear with who we are. It is not selfish to dance to your own rhythm, it is honest and allows everyone around us the chance to join in!
What is ‘enough’ for you in life?
Some people in my life consider me driven and that I will never have enough. It’s strange. I live feeling like I have enough. I feel full of adventure and grateful to have choices all around me. I like to explore what is possible, but recently I had my first ever DNF and was surprised to find that before I even got out onto the boat I had options defined as to how to proceed. I had learned and I was content, I had done all I could for that swim. I didn’t think it had beaten me. For me it’s not a battle. More a puzzle I have to find the pieces in myself to complete. Adventure teaches me that I have enough of everything within me. It’s just such a privelege to play that out in our beautiful world.
If you could make a 30 second speech to every woman, who is interested in adding more adventure into their life, what would it be?
I would tell them that adventure is within us all, it is learning a new language, putting a poem in a national competition, seeing what’s around the next corner…. life is an adventure and the attitude of play is an amazing tool to get you started. Don’t wait to feel ready, just jump! You can’t exercise your wings standing on the ground.
What are the most important questions you think a woman can ask herself in life?
What does it mean to be a woman? Then rip up your answer. Sing it like M People ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TODAY TO MAKE YOU FEEL PROUD!’
What are the three biggest lessons adventure has taught you?
I am my own hero. Everything I do is an adventure, it is my perspective and learning from all aspects of life makes it so. I am responsible for my own happiness and future and it is no longer scary, power through choices.
With reference to how adventure is commonly portrayed, how do you feel the Gender Gap should be addressed?
It would be great to get more female voices in the public ear as voiceovers on adventure programmes on mainstream tv and radio. It is happening more, but there’s a long way to go before we have as many household faces being female. I think just continuing to expose ourselves and our adventures – certainly not something in the UK that is always taught to us girls to do – and celebrating each and every woman we hear about just as we celebrate all adventures. The more normal we can make it, the sooner it becomes so.
Finally, what do you think are the two most powerful things a woman can accept about herself?
I am human, the same as every other person, I am as powerful and kind and able as every other person. I can. I will. I am! I am the creator of my own future, the pioneer in my own adventure story.
Beth, thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions, you’ve certainly left us feeling empowered and inspired!