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.

Paramedic Nick Williams was inspired to take on swimming fundraising challenges to increase his fitness and activity levels following his father's cancer diagnosis.

Nick, who is from Ipswich, felt helpless following the news and decided that he wanted to be able to play an active role in helping others and decided to become a paramedic.

He resigned from his previous job and embarked on a new career and began to fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support across various challenges after his father Gerry was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

He took up his position at Ipswich Hospital and began to see the work that the Macmillan team did at the Woolverstone Macmillan Centre. He has been fundraising for the charity ever since.

Nick took on a whopping 76 events for Macmillan in 2016, including running over 1,000km and swimming tens of miles.

This year he is returning to the John West Great East Swim on Saturday 22 June to continue his fundraising. He has raised over £3,000 over the years and hopes to commit thousands more to the charity.

Nick said: “When we found out that Dad had cancer, it was one of the only times that I felt completely unable to help him.

“I didn't know what to do as I couldn't give him my bladder, take the pain away or stop the cancer. It made me realise that I wanted to do something to help other people and that's why I joined the service.

“I am based at Ipswich Hospital and see the amazing work that the team does at their new Woolverstone Macmillan Centre.

“It was opened in May 2016 and it inspired me to want to help raise money in some way for the charity.

“When my Dad was ill it was a very trying time and I spent a lot of time at home thinking about things and fearing the worst. Being involved in charity work helped clear my mind and gave me something to focus on and my own mental health.

“Since I began to turn my life around with fitness and keeping active I have lost three stone in the process.

“Training is a key part to completing all of the challenges that I do and it's very important to find the time to train, especially for something like an open water swim.

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

Nick says he enjoys undertaking physically demanding challenges as a personal goal for himself. He began undertaking open water swimming events due to the inclusivity of the environment, where he didn't feel conscious of his size or ability.

Nick has become a Great Swim regular and will be taking on the 5k distance at the John West Great East Swim this June.

He added: “It would be easy to organise a pub quiz or a cake sale, but it wouldn't be something that would challenge me personally so I always like to aim towards something bigger, harder or longer each time I take part in an event.

“I struggled with weight problems for many years, I was doing 12 hour shifts and eating at the wrong times. This gave me a goal to focus on and get my health in check.

“The great thing about open water swimming is the inclusion factor. At a Great Swim event, all you see is bobbing heads and arms, for a big chap its quite an inclusive factor for me.

“At running events I would look around and warming up, I was always conscious of my size, but in the water I am just an arm and a head and it makes me feel like I am in a safe environment where no one judges me.

“I am just one of many! The wave of hats makes you feel part of a group or how fast or far I am swimming, just that I am here for my own personal reason. “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.”

For more information about the John West Great East Swim, visit: Greatswim.org/East