I enjoyed swimming at school but that was forty years ago. When my friend first suggested we give some of the State Ocean swims a go I was quite apprehensive. I guess it’s a male thing but we didn’t even consider the shorter distances – It was “going long” or drown in the attempt!
I live in Whangaparaoa very close to the local swimming pool and beaches. We started training in August with a mixture of pool and ocean swims. I remember my first few swims; I could hardly do five lengths without gasping for breath. I kept telling myself I had to be realistic and that if something was worth doing it was worth doing badly at the start.
As time went by my wife became very complementary of my changing body shape. She had to put up with quite a bit of strutting around in front of the mirror before bed most nights.
Entering the race gave us an excuse to have a holiday. I took the day off work and we drove up to Paihia with our friends on the Friday. We made lots of stops along the way and while my friend and I were discussing race strategy over coffee our wives were off diving into clothing shops hunting down those bargains you never see in the city.
It had been nine years since we were last in Paihia and the weather when we arrived was fantastic. The race organisers had set up seven large buoys across the bay 450 metres apart. They stretched as far as the eye could see from Paihia to Russell. It was hard to be apprehensive because the scenery was so stunning. Our apartment was right on the waterfront so we didn’t have far to walk in the morning to catch the ferry to Russell for the start.
On race morning while I was wrestling to get into my wetsuit the door to our apartment opened and my three daughters burst in together with one of my sons in law. They had got up at four o’clock that morning and driven all the way up to Paihia just to support me. They were wearing white singlets that said “Go Dad”. I can’t tell you what that meant to me – it was big, and I’ll cherish that memory forever.
Sitting on the ferry going over to Russell for the race start we had a chance to chat with other swimmers. We were wearing white caps which meant we were in the slowest time group but it didn’t seem to matter because we were all part of one big happy family united in our enjoyment of swimming and the thrill of a challenge. We noticed that body shape and age didn’t seem to matter. There were a good number of older and well-rounded individuals among the yellow and red caps. We felt there was hope for us. We all had a laugh when the captain gave us the safety briefing over the intercom. There we were all sitting in our wetsuits ready to swim back to Paihia and the captain was telling us where the life rafts were in the event of the ferry sinking. Good times.
It took me one hour and forty three minutes to swim back to Paihia. I was in 542nd place and 31st in my age group. None of that mattered of course. I was just glad to make it across alive. When I asked my friend what part he enjoyed he said “the start and the finish”, and that was the same for me. There were a lot of people smiling and waving us off on Russell and I even managed to wave back once or twice as I made my way to the first buoy. The first three 450 legs went well and then we seemed to hit a current that pushed us off course. That middle leg was a very long one indeed as we battled our way back on course. I was grateful for my training. I noticed my friend swimming just behind me and it was a comfort to think I wasn’t alone. Towards the end as I was getting tired I kept thinking of my family at the finish. When I finally stood up on firm land, there they all were, and hundreds of others – all clapping for me. I was so happy I hugged the life guard who was there to direct me to the finish line. By the look on his face I don’t think he had ever been hugged by a competitor before but I didn’t care. I was hugging everybody I could get my hands on. What an achievement. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not worth it. When you achieve something that takes real effort – it’s worth it.
We hung around that day and clapped in every last swimmer as they came ashore. Even when the clock had stopped and time was no longer being recorded. It wasn’t about time it was about finishing and recognising the effort it took to finish.
I got more out of my first ocean swim than I thought I would. It enriched my friendships, it inspired my wife and it created some special memories that warm my heart and the hearts of my family. I don’t think I’m going to become a fanatic but I have started training for the Auckland Harbour Crossing in December. I hope to keep swimming well into my old age, although if what I see in the mirror is anything to go by that’s a long way off yet.
by Rod Hare, Whangaparaoa