A Sunderland swimmer who found her sea legs by diving into the waves off Roker Beach is now inspiring women across the country to find their own way to fitness.
Gill Dando stars in the new video for the This Girl Can campaign, the Sport England project to promote sport among women.
The 39-year-old features after she was coaxed into auditioning by fellow swimmers when film makers visited Fausto cafe, on Marine Walk.
The business has a sports and social club which hosts language classes, yoga sessions, bike rides, runs and swims on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings.
It was through its year-round bathing club that Gill discovered a new love of outdoor swimming.
Gill, who is an aunt to Lillie-Grace Dando, two, and cousin to Coral Nichol, five, and Phoebe Nichol, eight, hopes the video will encourage women to take up a sport as well as show children and young women they should not fear fitness because they are self-conscious.
There are children in my family and it makes me really proud and I can say, ‘I did that.’Gill Dando
“When I saw it, I nearly cried, just the message of it is so inspirational,” she said.
“I think it’s so lovely the way they have done it, it’s been made so tastefully and it reaches out to anybody, all different shapes and sizes and nationalities.
“There are children in my family and it makes me really proud and I can say, ‘I did that.’
“I’ve had a lot of other people share it on social media and other swimming groups on Facebook saying ‘I wasn’t going to go out, but now I am’ and they’ve showed it to their sons and daughters saying ‘This is mummy or daddy’s friend.’
“They’ve all taken different messages from it, which is really positive.
“I think if I’m on national television, swimming in front of cameras and not care, then anybody can.
“There have been times in my life when I’ve struggled with my body image, had low self esteem, had an eating disorder, and to be able to do this, through swimming, I hope other people will do the same.”
Gill started swimming outdoors regularly with Fausto during the summer and now also swims with other groups including Mind and Sole Alnwick, Cullercoats Bike and Kayak and Tynemouth Surf Co and has since completed a triathlon with the cafe.
The customer service manager, who works for a laboratory testing firm and lives in on the outskirts of Durham, added: “I’ve gone outdoor swimming since I was a young girl, but it was all ad hoc.
“It’s really come hand in hand with other stuff, so I do stand up paddle boarding, a bit of kayaking and surfing and I’d been told that swimming would help deal with cold water shock.
“My kayak instructor advised me it would help me get acclimatized if I had an accident.
“I’ve started going to Fausto in July and gone regularly since the summer.
“When I went the first time I was sitting in the car and nearly drove away, but I’m so glad I did it and made that first step.”
Due to a tight schedule, the This Girl Can team could not travel back up to Sunderland, so met up with Gill to film her swim in the sea off Hastings.