“Everything I've done has prepared me for ice swimming.”

On the railway, Jade Perry works as a programme integration manager in Scotland. In freezing waters, she's a world champion ice swimmer – and just one of our many employees achieving great things with the support of an inclusive organisation.

Jade says her extraordinary training gives her unique perspectives that she can take back to her career on the railway. She says: “The open water swimming definitely makes you feel much more part of the ecosystem within which we live … You really get a perspective of yourself as part of a much bigger, and much diverse environment.

“It really helps you value the environment that we are in, value the greenness, the beauty of it, the trees, and it helps you understand and see the impact that we have on the environment, the built environment and how we can do things differently.

“Ultimately, we work in the railways and we're there to help people make the journeys out to beautiful places like Scotland.”

Watch this film to find out more about Jade's passion for this amazing sport:

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Q and A with Jade

What's your job?

I work in the High Speed 2 integration team as a programme integration manager.

Why do you love your job?

It is really interesting and changeable. The team are really good and adaptable though. It’s all about pre-emptive problem solving, engagement and chasing opportunities. It gives me a chance to operate in the leadership space and work proactively, which I love.

When were you first inspired to try ice swimming and what was your first experience like?

I gradually worked down to ice swimming, so it wasn’t a huge shock. But I remember thinking as I got into the water at my first ice competition – wow, this is soo cold. How am I even going to breathe? But then they said – take your marks … Go  and it was about the race, which I surprised myself at winning.

What did you feel ice swimming gave you when you started?

Euphoria. It is that simple, it is a great natural high. It was also hugely relaxing, all you can do is concentrate on breathing so all the worries and stresses are just let go.

What drives you to train in such harsh conditions – and to excel at such a high level of competition?

I’ve always been a competitive swimmer and I want to be as good as I can be. You can’t do that without training. I have a slogan on my gym wall: “Sometimes you wish it was easier, but then you remember if it was easier then everyone would do it and you don’t want to be like everyone else.” I suppose that sums it up.

Do you feel your athletic training and achievements help you be your best at work?

Yes. You can’t swim for two hours staring at the line on the bottom of the pool without learning about self motivation and determination. Both things are even more relevant in today’s post covid-world. But it’s also about the people I meet at competitions, seeing their attitudes and approaches help me learn to be better in the water and out of it.

Are there shared values in ice swimming and your job?

Sometimes there are hard days, where it doesn’t happen, you feel cold, sluggish – but you know that sooner or later the sun will shine and things will get easier. We all have those days and it is about knowing that doing the difficult and challenging piece of work now will pay off in the future is important. 

You work flexibly – what does that mean and does that help you with your training?

It means I can train in the daylight in winter, it means that I can manage everything from my diet to physio appointments and it enables me to be the best I can be at work and in the water. A true win, win scenario.

Has Network Rail supported you in your athletic goals?

Yes, from letting me start early and leave to make training at high tide, to supporting medical appointments and pain management and decorating my desk with balloons when I came back from a competition.

What would you tell someone else about aiming high to achieve incredible things?

Never forgive up, but remember you can rest and come back stronger. Look forward and remember if the tip of the ice-berg is success, the bit under the water is a whole lot of hard work, disappointment, training, mental perseverance, tears, laughter, small wins, failures, diet, motivation, fear, hope, support and a whole lot more. Believe in yourself.

Back in 2012 I could not conceive taking my wetsuit off – yet here I am.

What would you tell someone about how to keep going when things are hard?

To accept that some days are and will be tough, they are the days that really make the difference. Celebrate finishing them and move on don’t dwell on it. We all have bad times. Then, when it goes well remember those tough times – because they are what helped you reach success. I am a strong believer that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

What motivates you to keep working and training hard?

The good days, the days of peace with my environment, personal bests, podiums and respect from my peers.

How are sports like ice swimming helpful to mental health?

Ice and open water swimming are really valuable parts of mindfulness and wellbeing. They are great chances to stop and breathe and concentrate on there here and now. Being outside in our environment is also hugely beneficial to mental health and wellbeing.

Is mental health discussed and supported at Network Rail?

Yes. Especially now with covid when you can’t see people face to face. It has become much more acceptable to ask ‘how are you doing?’ or to say ‘I’m struggling today’. I am very proud to be part of such a supportive team.

What's next for you in ice swimming?

I am hoping to compete in the next ice swimming world championships in Poland. Before that I promised Mackie’s Ice Cream who sponsored me to go to the world champs, that I would do an ice mile in Scotland– which is one mile in water below five degrees.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Work wise: I am sure I will still be doing something that excites and interests me, hopefully still with the transport industry, but definitely leading and inspiring others.

In swimming: In 2010 I had never swum open water, in 2013 I had never swum without a wetsuit, in 2018 I broke the British ice swimming record, in 2019 I won gold at the world championships.  In 10 years' time I don’t know where I will be, but if I follow the trend of the last years, it will be pretty interesting.

What do you hope to have achieved by the time you retire?

I’ll never retire swimming. The masters age-groups go up into the 90’s. I’d like to still be competing then!

Read more:

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