I'm sorry, Sasha Fierce, but I've cheated on you... It wasn't planned ... I just... I think... I have a new girl crush. On Otter Women's Water Polo team.
In planning a programme of participation in almost 40 sports, some are easier than others to pin down. For example, I can play table tennis in a pub on London Fields, and this really is my proposed venue for that particular competition. Women's Water Polo teams in the London area are considerably trickier; there are only 3 leagues of 8 teams in the whole country.
It's pretty difficult to run a water polo team. It's an expensive sport because you have to hire a pool, and it can't just be any old pool, it has to be deep enough for you not to be able to stand up in. It's also not a particularly mainstream sport in the UK, so I guess people aren't going to be naturally inclined to seek it out. So then, how do you get the funding if the demand isn't great?
Aside from this, you have to be a pretty good swimmer to be good at water polo and the very good players, as with most sports, start young, but swimming lessons in many schools just aren't enough to get kids to the level they would need to be at for water polo. Peggy, from Otter Women's Water Polo team, tells me that they've recently started an under 15s team, which they are recruiting for, and have had to target their recruitment at public schools because the standard of swimming in state schools is so poor. Then there are more common issues relating to women and sports - for example, teenage girls feel self conscious and don't want to be seen in their swimming costumes or they don't want to get their hair wet. (I want to say, on the latter point, really? Really girls? To be fair, if you've got a mane like mine, it is a pain in the arse).
So, after an email exchange with Peggy and Lex from the Otter Polo team (which almost felt like fate given that otters are one of my favourite species of the mustelid family) in which I admitted that whilst I can swim, I'm probably not the strongest swimmer in the world, they very generously offered to play host to me at one of their training sessions.
As I was leaving work for the training session, chatting to some colleagues about my planned activities, they did little to allay my fears. "It's like rugby," Jamie tells me, "really rough, they just beat each other up". "Yeah", Sam chips in "What happens below the water stays below the water - just be thankful you don't have balls". So I was pretty nervous. What I'd not understood, as I headed towards Crystal Palace National Sports Centre to join them, was that their first team is actually the second best in the country. So, I was basically training with the Chelsea (sorry, Otters, for drawing this comparison) of the women's water polo world.
This became apparent pretty quickly. We did some "warming up" - some lengths of the pool. Coach Nick instructed them to do six lengths at around 70%. Being naturally competitive, I really went for it, by my standards - probably around 110% for me - but they were well into their third lengths whilst I struggled on my second. I was practically dying by the end of the warm up.
The thing about Water Polo is that you can't stand up, so you're trying to catch or throw a ball (with one hand), or drown someone else who is catching or throwing a ball, whilst treading water, which is not easy. Not only this, but the strength of these women is INCREDIBLE. I could not, as anyone who has seen me play netball will testify, throw a ball that hard with both hands, standing on dry land.
We did some passing and shooting practice and suffice to say I was terrible. At about half the distance that the other girls were from the goal, I still couldn't reach the net. Then I tried some attacking, against the defence of Peggy then Michelle, during which you pretty much both push each other and swim. Peggy had pushed me halfway down the pool before I turned round to try and catch the ball.
By this point, I was starting to feel like it might be time to call it a day and maybe even that the coach would tell me enough was enough and they had some serious practice to be getting on with. But then we actually played a match. I couldn't tell you who won - I was so busy trying not to drown. I did score a goal, and Nick said that if I scored my team could have 10 points, but I'm not sure the points were awarded given the extent to which my goal was enabled.
There is a really scary statistic about the amount of water it takes to drown a person, and if it's true, I must have died about 8 times that night. Maybe it was the excessive ingestion of chlorinated water, the fact that I wasn't feeling entirely well, that I'm terribly unfit or perhaps a combination of the three. Regardless, I'm not too proud to admit that I did a small but not insignificant sick in my mouth as I was leaving the centre that evening. For this reason, I have to award the Otters the gold medal. I don't deserve one at all but I'll take the silver because I'm greedy like that.
The Otters run a beginners course for those of you who fancy dipping your toe in slightly gentler waters, where you can learn the basics. I would highly recommend this from witnessing these women in action - Ladies, I am literally in awe of you
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