“I found myself taking blood from Tom Daley”.
Jo Luckman is a champion of getting out there, trying new experiences, and making them work. A nurse who has worked for UK Anti-Doping, she’s also a pilates teacher, wild swimmer, artist and musician, and owns her own holiday retreat business. Here she paused for a second to tell us all about her amazing outdoor life.
Hey Jo, tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
I’m Jo and I’m based in Dorking, Surrey. I am the owner of a retreat business called Island Retreats with Jo where I run retreats in the beautiful Isle of Wight in Pilates, Wild swimming and Art. This is a new business venture for me but having run many Pilates retreats in Italy, I felt the time was right to start my own business.
I ran a Pilates retreat on the Isle of Wight last September when we were let out for a bit. It was a huge success and so the decision was made. This time though, I wanted to run retreats in all the things I love and feel passionate about, hence the art, swimming and Pilates.
I’ve also been teaching Pilates for 20 years. I’m also a nurse and have been on and off for nearly 40 years argh! Where did that time go?
I was called up last year to help with the pandemic and I’m now a vaccinator working locally. I’m also a musician, playing sax in a few bands. And lastly, I do some part time modelling for an online clothing company. I realise this sounds like a lot of jobs but I do love a bit of variety!
I find that things happen and start to take me on a different path. For example, I volunteered at the 2012 Olympics and because of my nursing experience, found myself working in dope testing in the aquatic centre taking blood from Tom Daley amongst many others. What a fabulous experience that was!
On the back of that I worked for UK Anti Doping for a few years taking blood from elite athletes for dope testing. My first job was to take blood from one of the world’s most famous athletes in a hotel room in London at 6am. This mega famous runner had flown in the night before from the USA and was not waking up. Eventually he (along with all the other hotel guests!) heard us knocking and was surprisingly lovely and welcoming bearing in mind what time it was!’
I met so many interesting people from the world’s top cyclists to Wimbledon champions, and I got to ask them so many questions as well as take their blood! I got cycling advice from Chris Froome and running advice from Mo Farrah. I got to attend the Rugby world cup final at Twickenham and even walked out from the tunnel to cheering crowds. They hadn’t a clue who I was but they cheered anyway.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
The outdoors has been such a big part of my life for many years. I’ve always loved exercising outdoors and can’t cope with indoor gyms or swimming pools. I love nothing more than going to my Great Outdoor Fitness class in the pouring rain, doing press ups and sit ups in the mud!
I recently discovered the wonders of Open Water Swimming following major back surgery and this is now my absolute favourite thing to do, which is why I’m very excited to be running my first Open Water Swimming retreat next June!
What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?
A hiking trip to the Dolomites with my husband Nick. We spent our days climbing stunning mountains, eating in tiny mountain hut cafes, walking through fields of beautiful wild flowers and eating our body weight in food every night. This was also my first experience of an e-bike. It enabled me to cycle up a mountain – something that was never going to happen on an ordinary mountain bike!
How do you find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
Finding a balance is tricky but I feel so lucky to be in a position where I have my own business. There’s just me, and if I decide I want to go for a 10 mile hike or a swim down at the coast, I just have to ask my ‘boss’ who seems to always say yes haha! My children are grown up and living independently so I no longer have the pressures of looking after kids. My husband works pretty long hours so I have plenty of time to work and play. It’s been so lovely having him work from home for the last 18 months as we get to spend much more time together.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
My mum was my biggest inspiration. She was at her happiest in the sea with either a snorkel and fins on or scuba diving. I do believe she was actually a fish! She also loved the outdoors and childhood holidays were spent on farms, climbing hills and of course, swimming in the sea regardless of the weather. My mum was a teacher and I think that’s in my genes as teaching has underpinned almost everything I’ve done. She was a truly beautiful soul and I miss her still very very much. I know she would have been so proud of what I have done and my new venture.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Being outside, for me, is as essential as breathing. I love having my dog (Momo) as she needs walking whatever the weather and getting outside, even when its cold and wet and I feel like staying in the warm, makes me feel so alive. Open water swimming has also had an amazing effect on my mental health. Having undergone major spinal surgery in January, I was feeling pretty low. In fact I nearly hit rock bottom at one point. We were in lockdown, I couldn’t see my friends, and couldn’t run or do any of the things I would normally do to stop the blues.
When my consultant told me I could start swimming, with support and encouragement from my mad friends who’d been swimming all through the winter, I ventured in to a very cold lake. I couldn’t actually get in or out of a full wetsuit because of my back limitations at the time, so I wore a shortie wetsuit, some swim socks and gloves and a woolly hat. I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. It was time to give it a go. My friends had to put my socks on and help me in and out of the wetsuit, but I got there in the end. I was hooked. The lake became my friend. It eased my pain and made me feel so unbelievably good. I looked forward so much to each dip.
What is it about open water swimming specifically that you love?
I love the wildness. I love the feel of the water on my skin. I love that when I turn my head to breathe I can see anything from bushes and reeds to a duck happily swimming along next to me. Why would anyone want to swim in an indoor pool full of chemicals and children’s wee when you can swim in the wild in duck wee instead?
I particularly like sea swimming. I love the feel of the salt water on my skin. The sea is more exciting in its unpredictability. It moves and you learn how to move with it. Most of all though I absolutely love the buzz you feel when you’re dry and warm and your body has that wonderful post-exercise tiredness, and you’re with friends and everybody feels the same. Plus you can eat cake!
When did you discover FINDRA?
I discovered FINDRA through my lovely friend Adele (who runs FINDRA social media – ed), who first introduced me to the joys of mountain biking! I love the clothes and, having had my own Harley Davidson, am really into merino as it kept me so warm on my bike.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My very good musician friend Terry Pack told me “don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong” I think this can apply to many many things in life. You don’t have to be perfect, but with practice, you can be so much better than you ever imagined and you can do anything you put your mind to.
What is the key motivational or inspirational message you would choose to inspire our followers to get outdoors?
My advice would be to get out there and try new things. Life is all about new experiences and experiences outdoors can be just about the best experiences you might ever have.
You can find out more about Jo’s pilates and open water swimming retreats on her website: islandretreatswithjo.co.uk.
“Well, that’s a tricky one as there are so many, but having recently got into art myself, particularly portraiture, I’ve discovered an amazing artist called Julie Hilboldt who my daughter introduced me to.
“Her work is mainly large portraits with moments of abstraction. She mainly uses charcoal and oils. I’m totally obsessed with charcoal myself right now and love trying new techniques. I’ve just discovered the wonders of using acetone spray on charcoal – an absolute delight!”
View more of Julie’s work on: hilboldtstudios.com
“I live in the Surrey Hills and my favourite trails are all around here. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by such stunning countryside with so much choice on my doorstep.
“My absolute favourite has to be any of my running trails starting from the top of Ranmore in Steers Field. I’m not allowed to run right now as I had major back surgery earlier this year but I have such lovely memories of weekly summer runs on a Tuesday evening with my running club – Dorking and Mole Valley Athletics Club – always starting from the same spot but a different trail run each week.
“Once a year we run the ‘bench to bench’, an 11 mile run from the bench in Steers field to the bench just below Leith Hill Tower and back again, an annual club tradition finishing at the pub for a well earned dinner and beers!”
Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
“As a musician this is almost an impossible task but, if I have to choose, then it would be Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. It was really this tune that inspired me to take up the saxophone at the age of 40. It’s a beautiful tune in a tricky 5:4 time signature but with a catchy melody and gorgeous sax playing.
“I literally fell head over heels in love with the saxophone and am still as passionate about it. I now play tenor sax, alto sax and flute in several bands, and have recorded an album with Trees, one of the bands I play with. I play mostly jazz now and love nothing more than playing a live gig somewhere with a packed dancefloor – it’s one of the biggest highs you can get! When people say to me how they would love to play an instrument, I always say you are never too old to start!”