Girls Go Wild: how women-only swimrun camps looks to inspire teens

Dec 28, 2018

By Nancy Heslin

Maria Rohman is keen to try anything. Growing up in a small town on the west coast of Sweden, she spent most of her time at the stable caring for her horse, but there was also downhill skiing, sailing and she started running ten years ago.

However, she didn’t know how to swim the front crawl. The idea of stripping down to a bikini in the middle of winter, putting on a swim cap and jumping into a cold pool was daunting. “It basically took me 10 years and two kids to take the leap, or, should I say, dive, in the pool – and when I did, I lost both my goggles and my bikini bottoms to the amusement of the Masters group observing from the side of the pool.

Three months after Maria’s first swim attempt, she hopped on a plane to Spain for a swimrun camp in Costa Brava where between the combination of crystal-clear waters, rocky trails and peers to laugh with, she “totally fell in love” with the sport. She finished first in the Women’s category at the 2018 ÖTILLÖ Final 15 with teammate Lina Byman and third at ÖTILLÖ Utö full distance with Elisabet Pärsdotter Westman.

“For me this was a crossroads in my life. I decided two things. First, I have one life to live and I want to do it laughing – at least most of the time! And second, this is something everyone should experience. Swimrun is a way to feel great about yourself and most of us should spend more time in nature. I especially wanted more women to do this.”

As the weeks passed, Maria toyed with the idea of organising camps herself. Coupled with the fact that her personal life had changed, the camps became a way of not only meeting new friends but also empowering women. “Many women, like myself, get caught up in their families, kids and work and don’t really take the time for themselves.”

In Costa Brava, Maria had met Sarah Hansson, who lives in Barcelona and was then racing with Fanny Danckwardt-Lillieström. The three Swedes shared the same vision and decided to host a women’s only camp at the Dynamic Hotel (the owner happens to be a swimrunner) in Caldes d’Estrac, north of Barcelona.

After a few intense weeks, the first camp was launched in 2018 and it sold out in 48 hours. “We were rather shocked but reassured that we were on the right path.” With a long waiting list, a second campwas announced and also sold out quickly.

Last year’s women-only weekend camps, (pictured) not too far away from home and off-season to keep costs low, affirmed what the organisers had suspected: women don’t make themselves a priority. It was a winning concept.

“We wanted to show that swimrun is not a macho sport, but a sport for everyone,” Maria explains. “We strongly believe this is the new way of socialising for women. Instead of going shopping or to a café, we meet up and go for a swimrun.

At the first camp, 18 women, aged 16 to 57, from beginners to experienced, came together to create an amazing atmosphere where everyone helped one another and became friends. Some lived in the same areas and now both train and hang out together.

As swimrun is still in its early days, and dominated by men, both when it comes to participation and running business linked to the sport, Maria and Fanny want to help drive its growth. For 2019, the gals have put together five WILD swimrun camps: Costa Brava (Spain), Hvar (Croatia), Stockholm (Sweden), Uto (Sweden) and Cannes (France). “We hope to attract the curious as well as those already in love with the sport who want to explore new locations with likeminded swimrunners.”

She adds, “We hope that the women who participate in our camps will be so inspired they’ll go home and inspire others to try. “

The majority of the WILD camps are 4+ days (3 or 4 nights) with a mix of theory and practice, from how to breath in open water to running in a more energy-efficient way, even up those steep hills swimrun is famous for.

According to Maria, each camp has a different focus, and for the longer camps visits and other activities provided by local female entrepreneurs are included when possible. For example, female boat drivers have been hired for WILD Hvar, and selected restaurants are managed and owned by women.

“We try to make the Camps easily accessible with everything included in the price – accommodation in a shared room, food and activities – so there are no bitter surprises when participants get back home.”

Flights are not included, but there’s help with gear if someone doesn’t have their own. The first camp WILD Costa Brava costs €550 (3 nights) and our WILD Hvar camp is €650 euro (4 nights).

We are both very excited about our WILD Cote d’Azur road trip. The thought of a van full of swimrun women travelling along the coast with stops and visits to stunning locations for swimrun, food, wine and other activities along the way, is extremely exiting. It will surely be an unforgettable trip for all women on that bus.”

Part of the proceeds from each WILD Camp will go towards the WILD Foundations initiatives to empower women. “Swimrun teaches girls important life skills such as teamwork, leadership and confidence and through the sport we can provide young women with the tools to grow into confident adults.

“Next year our goal is to provide 2 or 3 scholarships per camp where young women get the chance to join one of the regular camps. We also want to set up a specific Teen Camp, which will be an international camp for teens aged 15-19. Our aim is to have selected partners who work with us on this.”

For Fanny Danckwardt-Lillieström and Maria Rohman, this is no longer just about organising camps. Maria confesses, “This is about growing the sport and getting more women involved. Fanny and I complement each other and are both driven by hard work and joy, which is important since we both have day jobs, families and friends … not to mention some swmming, running and strength training of our own to do.”

For more on WILD Swimun Camps for women, visit their website.

Article first published for Swimrun Life Magazine (December 2018).

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