Two hundred bucks was all it took. Even then it wasn’t much but it was all The Age would pay to have him swim the 25 miles from Port Arlington to Frankston, Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne. It was a race the Melbourne paper had sponsored and for which they were struggling to get a field. It was a small fee indeed, agreed one night on the drink with his journalist mates, that started a middle-aged obsession for the remainder of Des Renfords’ life.
As you swim south around the back of Wedding Cake Island off Coogee Beach and take your sightings, you’d be excused for thinking the circus had come to town. With its distinctive blue and yellow panelled railings, changing pavilions sitting atop enormous wooden pylons and steep winding stairs that lead down to the coral lined enclosed ocean pool, the site is indeed carnival like.
John Koorey was the hare to Des Renford’s tortoise but unlike Aesop’s fable there was no ingenuity or trickery, just two big Sydney personalities from opposites side of the Harbour Bridge doggedly trying to be the first.
How very Australian that our proud record as English Channel swimmers should have its genesis in an act of teenage rebellion.
The humble kebab, that staple of the late night drunk, has become my focus in these last days of preparation for my Catalina Channel swim. Not just any kebab, my kebab is made of big juicy pieces of meat done to perfection and swivelling freely on a ramrod straight skewer and it's making a huge improvement to the way I swim.
Like bipolar disorder there should be two categories for the condition we know as 'did not finish'. DNF1 might be for not finishing for circumstances beyond the swimmers control. The other might be much harsher.
The train leaves every morning at 7 36 am. Some days it might be late due to a whinge about how far and hard we’ve already swum and a negotiation about how far we’ve got to go. The old rattler is called the ‘Extra Mile’ and it all stations to a channel somewhere.
I have come out twice in my life. Once at 40 with bipolar disorder and once at 50 as gay. I hope at 60 all I have to declare is that my prostrate is a bit doggy.
By far the hardest was telling my wife of 28 years and my 4 teenage children the truth about my sexuality but the hardest to navigate publicly has been my mental illness
Two hard, one easy. It’s a formula employed by swimming coaches and mental health therapists alike.
At the pool its purpose is to break down a tedious 4.5km session into manageable tasks – two laps swum hard followed by one lap easy is more palatable than swimming three laps at a moderate pace and then repeating that for an hour and a half.
Anxiety called last week. She always does before something big.
She’s nothing if not persuasive and within minutes had me convinced I couldn’t go on with my second Oceans 7 swim, the Catalina Channel in just under 2 months.
Two things happened day that couldn’t have ended my trip better on a better note.
I swam with my London based Vladswim friend, Chris McAnney in the Serpentine, Hyde Park where I swam with James Goins on my first day here. I was great to bookend my visit with these swims and in the company of these gentlemen.
It’s a little over two weeks now since my swim, and I am well and truly rested and relaxed. Thanks to all my readers, family, friends and donors. Your support has been overwhelming.
The day started inauspiciously when we boarded our vessel and it wouldn’t start. The spare battery was also flat. Thoughts of an all day swim suddenly turned to a day night game. Boat pilots are tight, so in no time we had a couple of batteries and we were off.
After a couple of false starts due to weather I’m set to start my swim at 6 am Tuesday (5 pm Tuesday night, Sydney). I will post this when I get final confirmation tonight and then surrender all social media devices while I try to get a few hours sleep.
I was always going to be the last swimmer of our group. It’s just the way the bookings worked.
My sports psychologist, Paul and I worked on this scenario before I left Australia: the other three would cross and I’d be left alone training and waiting.
The role of a marathon swimmers handler is a difficult one. They share the pain, ride the emotional roller coaster with their swimmer and then, when the job is done, selflessly step back allowing their charge to accept the glory from those who don’t know what’s gone on behind the scenes.
Our basecamp is 10 minutes out of Dover at Reach Court Farm in the 15th century village of St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe. Literally and symbolically, it’s the closest land to France. We are in the middle of wheat fields ready for harvest and the weather is superb.
The advice of seasoned channel swimmers and coaches is consistent, don’t think of France, don’t look back at the white cliffs, swim from feed to feed and eventually you run out of water.
The Republic of Dovakia is a parallel universe that sits alongside the town of Dover. The former is the world of international open water swimmers, the latter a tough working class town. There’s very few that cross over.
Standing under the white cliffs of Dover looking across to France and thinking of my swim across the English Channel in a few days, I am reminded of lines from ‘Ambition’ by the Australian poet, Russell Plunkett. My mother gave a framed copy to me some years ago.
Perhaps it’s because he’s from a landlocked country, Slovakia that my coach Vlad is so passionate about open water swimming. You need passion and a big personality to get up each morning to be at the pool by 6 to coach anything between 40 – 60 surf lifesavers, tri-athletes, ironmen, and English Channel swimmers, and he has both in spades.
My brush with suicide was fleeting. It was many years ago, and before I was diagnosed and treated for Bipolar 2.
I had been brutally and quite personally done over in a boardroom stoush the day before and hadn’t slept well reliving the experience over an over in my mind. With each replay my sense of frustration and injustice was intensified and my self worth diminished.
English Channel world recorder holder, Trent Grimsey (6 hrs 55 mins, 6 Sept 12) describes Brisbane’s Sutton’s Beach on his website, ‘Great one day, perfect the next’. I must have been at a different Suttons Beach the day I swam there in what was to become my defining channel training swim.
In any athletic endeavour smashing through the pain barrier is getting past the point where you think you can’t carry on. It’s about physical and mental toughness and success in managing pain comes incrementally to those who persist.
In one of Sydney’s strangest rituals, on any given day and in any given weather conditions, at 7 am sharp there will be one or two hundred ocean swimmers wearing pink caps, if not pink costumes, congregating off the point at Manly beach.