Entries to the Great East Swim are open, for more information and to enter, visit: Greatswim.org/East

A group of swimmers took to Alton Water reservoir to reflect on how swimming has changed their lives ahead of their Great East Swim challenge.

The open water-swimming event will return to Suffolk's largest manmade reservoir on Saturday 17 June for the ninth year.

It's just over one month to go until the inclusive event, which features a range of distances for all abilities, from the Swim250 for beginners,

The swimmers, who are taking on the open water challenge for a variety of inspiring reasons, shared their stories about how swimming and preparing for the event has transformed them both physically and mentally.

Nick Williams from Ipswich

Nick decided to take up swimming after his father was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Since he began to tackle open water swimming, he has transformed his life around by losing three stone and becoming a confident swimmer.

This year, he will take on a mammoth fundraising challenge for Macmillan Cancer Support, the Great Swim Series' offical charity partner, including the two mile distance at the Great East Swim.

Nick, 39, said: “I took on the one mile distance at the Great East Swim last year and loved it. Now I feel a little more confident in my swimming skills, I am going to do the two mile this year.

“I began running four years ago with my Dad as a way of keeping active and once I had managed to run a 10k without stopping, I began to look for a different challenge.

“Since I began to turn my life around with fitness and keeping active I have lost three stone in the process. I became involved with Macmilan after seeing the amazing work that the team carries out through my job as a Paramedic. When I take on events to support them, even if I am out in the open water I never feel alone.

“Training is a key part to completing all of the challenges that I do and it's very important to find the time.

“It may be hard but crossing the finish line at the end makes you realise that the pain was all worth it.

"Taking up open water swimming has really changed my life for the better.”

Andrew Wright, from Ipswich

Andrew has taken on the Great East Swim four times after he underwent life changing heart surgery that left him feeling like a new man.

After suffering from heart problems throughout most of his life, including blockages in two of his arteries, Andrew had stents fitted at Papworth Hospital. Taking up swimming following his operation inspired him to want to challenge himself further in the open water to support the British Heart Foundation.

Since then he has tackled a number of distances at the Great East Swim and will take on the 5k event this year.

Andrew, 59, said: “Before I started swimming, I always wanted to keep fit and healthy but my inherited heart problems meant that it was quite difficult.

“Seven years ago I found I had blockages in two of my arteries, one was 95 per cent blocked!

“I started swimming following my operation and it has helped to transform my life. I swam the best I had ever done for eight years!

“I have gradually increased my distance over the years and this year I am taking on the 5k, which is completely unknown territory for me but just shows how far I have come thanks to the sport.

“The British Heart Foundation is a brilliant cause to support as a large proportion of the population suffers with heart problems.

“Swimming has helped show me the importance of exercise to improve the health of people in my situation.”

Judith Hunt, from Gislingham

Judith is taking on her first Great East Swim for the Blossom charity. Blossom is the event's local nominated charity, which provides support network for women who want to make a positive change to their lives in the county.

Judith takes part in Blossom's workshop and coaching plans and wanted to give something back to the charity after benefitting from this herself.

Louise Hammond, from Debenham

Louise couldn't swim a length of a pool in front crawl before she threw herself into the deep end and signed up to the one mile distance of the Great East Swim.

She decided to sign up to the event as part of her 65th year to encourage others to work outside of their comfort zone.

Thanks to a love of swimming and encouragement from the Blossom Charity, Louise has become determined to help other women in the area be the best they can be and overcome difficult situations in their lives.

Louise said: “In my work with Blossom, I try to encourage participants on our programmes to work outside of their comfort zone and take on new challenges.

“This is exactly what I am doing in attempting a mile open water swim. Training for the Great East Swim has inspired me to be able to pass on encouragement and love of the sport to other people we work with at Blossom.

“When I signed up I struggled to swim a length front crawl! I am proof that anyone can swim if they put their minds to it.”

Clare Jackson, from Dickleburgh 

Clare took the plunge of open water swimming for the first time in 2015.

Three years on, Clare is taking on her third one mile event at Alton Water in aid of the Blossom Charity, which has inspired her to take on the event as part of a team and to encourage participation from those who seek help from the charity.

Clare, 40, said: “Swimming is amazing because it gives me the feeling of exhilaration when completing something that is a huge personal challenge.

“I am raising money for a great local charity, Blossom and taking part in an open water swim has given me a real push that sees me returning each year.

“Swimming for a charity with other people has helped me make new friends and enjoy preparing as part of a team.”

Over two thousand people of all ages and abilities regularly take the plunge at the Great East Swim, which offers the opportunity for everyone to take part – from first timers to experienced open water swimmers.

Distances range from a 1/2 mile up to the challenging marathon 10k swim, which is back by popular demand.

Brand new for this year, the event will also feature the Great East SwimRun, a combination of swimming and running across multi terrain around Alton Water, and the Great East Swim250, the perfect distance for beginners and youngsters.

Entries to the event are open now, for more information and to enter, visit: Greatswim.org/East