Since 2008 and the first ever Great Swim event, it's clear that open water swimming is a sport that always challenges expectations. More than ten years and tens of thousands of swimmers later, the one constant has been the incredible diversity we've seen reflected in the participants.

They've shown that no matter what your body shape, your level of fitness, whether or not you live with a disability or your age, you can reach your goal in the open water.

This year Great Swim is celebrating this incredible diversity and challenge the wider world's preconceptions of who an athlete is. The ‘Unexpectedly Great' Campaign will tell some of these inspirational stories and hopefully inspire many more people to think about what they could achieve through a Great Swim event.

Nahla Mahmoud only learned to swim as an adult three years ago. Her inspirational journey has allowed her to progress from beginner swimmer to the gruelling 10k marathon distance in just over two years.

Nahla, who is from Sudan, travelled to the U.K nine years ago as a migrant refugee and had faced a number of challenges, which meant she was unable to learn to swim as a child.

She grew up longing to be able to swim outdoors and realised her dream three years ago when she took the plunge and joined an adult swimming programme at her local leisure centre in London.

Over the last few years, Nahla's love of swimming and determination to succeed has inspired her to take on longer endurance distances in the open water. She has progressed to the 10k swim and will take on this marathon distance at the John West Great North Swim on the weekend of 7-9 June as part of a fundraising challenge to support Asylum Seekers and Refugees living in the UK.

Nahla, 31, said: “I grew up in Sudan, there was always water around me as I lived near to the River Nile. As a kid I would go out with my family to the rivers, but I was never able to jump in and enjoy myself with others because I could not swim.

“From my personal journey, there has been a number of barriers. I was not able to just jump into the water like my male peers, due to the conservative and religious culture in Sudan.

“There was a lot of social restrictions on women's freedoms in my country and swimming was something I had always wanted to learn but it was not accessible for me.

“I moved to the U.K nine years ago and I was faced with a different set of challenges. Finding a job, settling into a new country and home, securing a work permit. You get so exhausted surviving, so the luxuries of hobbies became merely a dream.

“But after spending a few years settling into the U.K, I felt that I wanted to go diving on my next holiday. I couldn't swim so I decided to register at my local pool for a lesson. I started with a group lesson which was really friendly. I spent the full time on the edge because I was scared of the water!

“I spent time training in my local pool before finally deciding to move to the open water and the rest is history!”

Nahla has since dedicated her time to promoting swimming and encouraging others who are not as confident to take on a challenge. She is also passionate about supporting those on low incomes to have access to services that can empower them to try something that they enjoy.

She is taking part in the John West Great North Swim in June to raise money for Blood Good Periods, a charity that buys sanitary products for low income families, refugees and asylum seekers.

She will join thousands of people at the popular open water swimming event set at Brockhole-on-Windermere in the stunning Lake District. Participants and spectators can enjoy a fantastic day of swimming with a stunning backdrop and a range of distances to suit all ages and abilities.

Nahla has progressed from a beginner to the 10k distance in a matter of years but believes there should be no stereotypes in swimming and that it's a fully inclusive sport.

She added: “A way to help people overcome the barriers around trying something new is to enable them and empower them to believing they can do it.

"With swimming I think it's about representing diverse communities more and making beginner clubs more accessible to all. A lot of us feel that they can't swim because the usual image of swimmers are of well-built athletes who have fancy equipment so you don't feel it is for you. A great way of helping adults to swim is to help them relate to the activity.

“Some feel embarrassed and I understand it's normal to feel self-conscious picking up swimming as an adult. Maybe you feel it's not for you or you cannot access services, but I think a lot of this is just perception.

"Once you get into this you will feel it's not the case. I would say to people who are thinking about swimming, just do it. This is actually the time to go and take the plunge.

"Group lessons are a great way of doing it. It can feel daunting, but we are all different and cover all images and paces. Go with what you are comfortable with in terms of pace and what you wear.

“It's not all about perfect strokes, once you are there a few times you become completely comfortable.

“The most important thing is that there is no magic in it, it's just a set of skills. You put in the training, time and effort and you reap the rewards and enjoy it.”

For more information about the John West Great North Swim and to enter, visit: