Manly – Bondi 14k Swim for Bear Cottage
Collaroy Chiropractor on a Bold and Beautiful ocean swim for Bear Cottage
Earlier this year friend and fellow Bold & Beautiful swim squad member, put forward the idea of swimming from Manly Beach to Bondi Beach. An open water ocean swim of approximately 14km. If completed this crazy swim would involve deep rough water, strong currents, cold temperatures and blue bottles. Oh, and it would pass through one of the most shark inhabited areas around Sydney.
Great, count me in!
A Reason Beyond the Self
A young pro bono patient of mine makes use of Bear Cottage Children’s hospice. Bear Cottage is for children with life limiting diseases. It has been established entirely through community support. Our proposed swim was pretty audacious and was gaining a bit of attention, so using it to raise funds for this beautiful local charity was a no-brainer.
The team comes together
A few others put their hand up for the swim. Among them was an English Channel swimmer, another who trained for the Olympics and two who finish on the podium of long distance ocean swim races. All good swimmers. Then there was me the Collaroy Chiropractor who could swim 750 metres from Manly to Shelley Beach – on a good day.
My life has been involved in sports requiring short bursts of high energy, not long endurance events. Plus I have no formal swimming background. Prior to proposing this swim, I hadn’t swum more than 2km in one go. To even consider swimming from Manly to Bondi would require a lot of training for both technique and endurance.
The best way to train for long distance ocean swimming is… Swim long distances in the ocean! In the 2 months leading up to the Big Swim, I established a baseline swim of a 2.5 km, 5 times a week. With one longer swim every week, starting at 4km and building to the longest swim of 10km, from Manly Beach, up the coast and back again. All training was performed in the ocean, in whatever conditions the open water presented on that day. The 10km swim was heavy but went ok and focusing on the kids at Bear Cottage, on the big day, would get me through the extra 4km.
A few stroke correction lessons with superfish Sarah Elbert from ‘Pretty Good Swimmer’ certainly helped too, learning to maintain an efficient relaxed glide and make every stroke count.
After many kilometers tuning the bodymind and refining my technique in the ocean, I was actually becoming a pretty good swimmer. As the day of the swim drew close there was a quiet confidence of going the distance without holding up the rest of the team.
The logistics of swimming from Manly to Bondi.
With official approval to swim across Sydney Heads, we started hustling for support boats and crew. The family of my Bear Cottage patient helped connect us with a perfect support boat, as did other swimmers from the Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad. With 2 motorised support craft and a three keen kayakers, things were taking shape.
The heads are a notorious hunting ground for Bull sharks as they enter and leave Sydney harbour. There are often sightings of great white sharks, especially during this time of year when they follow the whales on their migration up the coast. We borrowed and bought some shark shield transmitters to trail behind the kayaks – the latest shark deterrent technology giving added confidence out in the deep blue waters off the coast of Sydney.
Bear Cottage has friends in high places.
It was immensely rewarding to forward fundraising updates to the team and watch their enthusiasm grow as the dollars increased. The generous donations kept coming, bringing waves of gratitude to carry us through. Not to mention a stark reality check of the expectation now placed on what we were attempting.
Weather is a major factor in a swim such as this. It could turn a 5 hour swim into 10 hours and make or break the day. Deep inside I had an inkling that the weather would shine on us. I remember saying it at one of our team meetings, and it wasn’t just bravado. There was this feeling urging me on, telling me to follow my heart, remember why i’m doing this and all will be well…
Bear Cottage Big Swim is go!
Saturday, 21st of June 2014, 7am. The water was still, silky even, with the suns orange glow cast across a clear morning sky. Our support craft quietly motored to meet us and we set off, with a cheer from 170 Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad members. Some of the B&B old-guard swam with us from Manly Beach out to the open ocean before turning back. Then it was nothing but cliff line, deep water and a gorgeous sunrise for the next hour.
Swimming across Sydney Heads.
The shortest distance from Manly to Bondi actually takes you a fair way off the coast at times. This became apparent as we began to cross the heads of Sydney Harbour. The heads are notorious for swell, chop and currents (not to mention those sharks) and this crossing became the toughest part of the trip. The next two hours were hard work.
Up on board the boat our support team was enjoying the best whale watching trip of their lives, with sightings and breaching all the way along the coast. Down at water level the swimmers were facing a mild swell, but with a considerable wind chop kicking up from the westerly wind. The slight northerly current was a small consolation for fighting through the chop and swell in the deep water.
This section of the swim required focus to maintain a good swimming rhythm. Our stomachs were not enjoying the combination of rough conditions and swallowed ocean water. Imagine having someone throw a bucket of salt water into your face every time you tried to breathe in whilst shaking you by the shoulders. It was like that – for two hours.
Powering on to Bondi Beach.
I made a conscious effort to block out the conditions and the varying suggestions for the best course to avoid the chop. The more calm I created inside, the calmer it seemed to remain outside, and this was the goal. My throat was swollen and burning from the salt water and my left shoulder started to niggle around the 9km mark, requiring concentration to keep a good glide… And we were a looong way out from land.
Tired, sore, whatever… Just focus on that distant north headland of Bondi Beach and enjoy every stroke. This is a once in a lifetime experience, all in the name of helping sick kids. It doesn’t get more motivating than that. Interestingly, the ocean did begin to calm and was progressively friendlier from here on… Gratitude works!
The Bear Cottage Big Swim was a group effort.
More kilometers, more feed stops and wry smiles – just keep going. A short wait to regroup and we were almost at Bondi. Only 2km to go, the support crew were doing a cracking job. The skippers kept us on course, and the logistics personnel always had exactly what we needed for sustenance. The ever present kayakers still shepherding us whilst giving us space to swim. They sat up in the cold wind on uncomfortable skis for 5 hours, watching over us and guiding us through the chop. Big thanks guys!
5 hours of swimming requires a lot of fuel. We planned to re-feed/hydrate every half hour or so. Performance coach and Ironman athlete Kirsty Grace prepared an amazing swimmer nutrition plan. Everything we could want from carbo-electrolye drink mixes, homemade protein balls, fresh fruit chunks and much appreciated natural anti-inflammatories from 7.2. Re-feeding took about 2-3 minutes once the swimmers regrouped and downed as much fuel as they could stomach, (…not much to be honest).
Regroup and charge Boldly into Bondi Beach.
We regrouped again at the headland before turning right into Bondi Beach. The sun was shining bright as we stumbled onto the sand to be greeted by a surprise welcoming committee.
14km in 5 hours, everyone a bit weary but still smiling. The emotions were hard to describe. A sense of achievement, happiness, humility, but mostly a sense of contentment in the here and now…
A feeling that can be described simply as, “I am”.
Big thanks and much love to all our supporters, the sponsors who gave generously to Bear Cottage and the other swimmers. You all made the swim possible and helped us to help the kids. It was an honour to be part of such a successful adventure. In the end we raised $24,000 for Bear Cottage children’s hospice in Manly.
Manly to Bondi ocean swim… DONE.
A long list of thank you’s: Jason, Malcolm, Elizabeth, Anthony, Kirsty, Mark, Peta, Hamish, Mia, Steph, John, Laura, Charlie, Jess, Kylie’ parents, Caroline, Ian, Marc, Ben, Keith, Kathryn, Mike, John, Jim, Sarah, Emma, Alex, Kylie, Caroline, Iain, Brendan, Collie, Gary and Wendy. I’m sure there are many more and apologies if you’re not listed but you know who you are.
Other articles of interest for you…
Dr Andrew Maher
[ Tags: Collaroy, Chiropractor, Bold and Beautiful, Bear Cottage, Ocean Swim, Sharkshield ]