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Wild swimmer Elizabeth McDonald braved the chilly waters of the Moray Firth nearly every day over the winter to hit target and buy disabled teenager Cameron MacColl a hot tub


By Donald Wilson

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Elizabeth and cameron on the day of her final swim.
Elizabeth and cameron on the day of her final swim.

A wild swimmer has braved the chilly waters of the Moray Firth nearly every day throughout the winter to fund a hot tub for a disabled teenager.

High Life Highland leadership officer Elizabeth McDonald signed up to the Penguin Challenge, an international initiative to promote outdoor swimming, and started her quest in November to raise cash for 17-year-old Cameron MacColl who suffers from cerebral palsy.

The challenge was to do wild swimming two days every month between November and March. But the 56-year-old grandmother set herself a personal target to swim every day and completed 155 miles.

“The new Nairnshire edition of the Courier ran with the story in January and the appeal just kicked off from there,” Elizabeth said. “I had already raised nearly £3000.

“After the story appeared in the paper there were donations coming in from everywhere and we raised £9400 which has paid for the tub, the summer house, all the groundworks and the electrical work and MFR Cash for Kids is now going to provide Cameron with a hoist which is great for his parents too.”

Having taken up wild swimming in September and already seeing the benefits both for her physical and mental wellbeing, Elizabeth decided from the outset two days a month was not enough.

Sea conditions meant it was unsafe to swim on certain days. But Elizabeth was in the water 144 out of a possible 151 days and 116 of these were consecutive.

Water temperatures varied between just over two degrees to five degrees. When she started wild swimming in September it was 10 degrees. Air temperatures however sometimes plummeted to minus 11.

“Sometimes my hands were in agony, even with gloves on,” she said. “But it’s had enormous benefits helping me manage a chronic pain condition I suffer from and of course there’s the mental health which has affected everyone through Covid.”

Elizabeth said it was an easy decision to support Cameron.

“He has been through incredible challenges in his life and recently underwent major spinal surgery. The hot tub will have enormous benefits for him.

“Wild swimming is big in Nairn. Every time I went down to the beach, people inspired me by wishing me well and it really spurred me on to reach the goal. And many people who saw me went back home, found my JustGiving page and put in their donation.”

Cameron joined her for a quick dip in his wheelchair towards the end of her challenge.

“He’s game for anything and loved it. Of course it was just in and out and he was warmly wrapped up and the Sundancer restaurant provided us with hot chocolate.”

Elizabeth said she is going to continue going for her daily swim. “I’ve seen the benefits for my own health and made lots of friends in the wild swimming community.”

Cameron’s mum Elaine Harris said: “We can’t thank Elizabeth enough for everything she’s done and the generosity of the public who donated.

“The hot tub will help Cameron enormously.

“Despite the challenges he has faced he always has a smile and is obviously delighted.”


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