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.

Sylvia Mac is a childhood burns survivor who endured third and fourth degree burns across her body as a result of an accident when she was just three years old.

Sylvia, from East London, was badly burnt in boiling water when she fell backwards into the water that her mum was boiling.

The experience and her gruelling treatment left her traumatised, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression in later life as well as suicidal thoughts.

Although she swam competitively as a young adult, she struggled with confidence around her scars. Now age 50, she is involved in a campaign to support those with disfigurement through fortnightly swimming for people with skin conditions.

This year, Sylvia is an ambassador for Great Swim and will be joining thousands at the outdoor swimming events in both the Lake District and Suffolk.

She is set to take on the John West Great North Swim, which takes place between 7-9 June in Brockhole-on-Windermere to continue to campaign to support those who have gone through similar experiences as her.

Sylvia said: “I was a very negative person, throughout school I couldn't get on with my life. I was living in a bubble and it was very difficult because of my scarring.

“When I was nine, my dad put me into swimming with an instructor who taught me to swim in private baths.

“Then, I joined a club when I was 11 and loved it until people started to call me names like Lizard and Witch because they could see the scarring on my back so I decided that I wanted to cover my scars.

"I'd use a big towel and I couldn't get on with my swimming, I felt like others would know my scars were there and I ended up giving up around the age of 13.

“I didn't swim again until two years ago I was on holiday and a guy was videoing my scars on holiday and I decided I wanted to change perceptions so I decided to smile and pose for the camera.

“I became inspired to set up swim groups for people who had disfigurements. I visited local hospitals to bring people together.

“I started swimming again, it was a great therapy and being around all of these people who had gone through similar things to me, making them happy and it was a great time to be back in the water and I wanted them to feel it too.”

Two years ago, Sylvia set up LoveDisfigure, a campaign to raise awareness and support those living with disfigurement and differences. Through the campaign, she revealed a video that showed her scars and her story about the accident, with others being encouraged to do the same.

Now she creates photoshoots in order for those with similar experiences to come together and embrace their bodies and have fun. Sylvia also supports people who want to take on swimming by organising fortnightly swimming groups for those with skin conditions.

She is set to take her campaign to the open water at the John West Great North Swim and John West Great East Swim this summer, in both Brockhole-on-Windermere and Alton Water.

Great Swim offers thousands of swimmers across the country the opportunity to take on an open water swimming challenge, whatever their age or ability.

Sylvia added: “If people who want to swim feel that they can't embrace their body, I would tell them not to worry about other people in the water!

“Most of the time they're looking to judge, most of the time they aren't thinking about it because they're too busy having fun and getting in the water themselves. I think everyone should try swimming because it's great!”

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