Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Big Swim

Totally bloody rooted.

That's how I felt last Sunday as I struggled through the breaking waves at the start of the Big Swim, a 2.7 kilometre trek from Palm beach to Whale beach in Sydney, Australia.

I'll tell you what - I thought about giving up, which I've never done before in an ocean swim. I was buggered, having spent at least 20 minutes being pummelled by dumpers crashing down at 20 second intervals. Each time I emerged from under one wave, another wall of surf dragged me back so I barely made any progress.

A peleton of younger male swimmers (19-29 years) in the 'wave' after my group (the 40-49-year-old women), surged over and past me. I was tempted to grab someone's leg in the hope that the hitched ride would drag me out to the first pink buoy, bobbing about a couple of hundred metres offshore.

I looked back to the shore and saw two purple capped women from my age group. They had given up and returned to the beach. I was tempted to join them.

I really don't know what made me carry on. Maybe it was the thought of my youngest daughter, brother-in-law and two nephews waiting for my triumphant arrival at Whale Beach. Or of the wasted $35 entry fee. Or of the humiliation of having to admit defeat to my smug partner.

Whatever, I kept going and eventually beat the bully surf to get around the first buoy. One small stroke for ageing womankind.

Then I was alone in no-man's land. Deadset, I thought I was the last swimmer. I couldn't see any other arms flailing or colour-coded caps bobbing in the ocean as I swam towards the headland. Oh god, it took forever. I felt lonely. I needed someone to talk to. At this point the ocean was calm. It appeared bottomless and empty - except for me.

Then a surf boat loaded with surflifesavers charged by me and in the distance I spotted a couple more surflifesavers on their boards.

And a pink cap! Hurray! I was plodding along, but the knowledge that there was some other poor sod out there motivated me to pick up my pace. I was not alone!

I got alongside him and waved my arm. "Hi!" I shouted. But the old bastard ignored me. I had wanted to ask him if I could swim beside him but he obviously wasn't interested in a mid-swim conversation (can't blame him, but I do like a chat anywhere, anytime).

I overtook him in an act of retribution (rather than give the rude finger) and continued on my quest. But for what? Last over the finish line?

As I got closer to headland, the ocean became choppy and I swallowed a fair few litres of pure Pacific salt water. I bobbed around like a cork a lot of the time, so anyone observing my movements from one of the luxury homes dotted around the headland may have been confused about my motivation. I was.

After a while I spotted a few more caps - a pink one here, a white one there and another purple cap. I swam towards my purple peer but she was being hauled out of the water by a surflifesaver. I once again considered my options. It would be so nice to get a lift back to shore. The kids would be impressed, but my brother-in-law would be less forgiving.

There was no other option. I had to finish the bloody big swim.

It was a huge relief to get around the headland and to swim by the last three buoys with several other stragglers. Coming into the beach was a lot easier than I thought it would be. The surf seemed to be less ferocious. Maybe this was because I was being pushed to the shore and didn't have to fight against nature but simply move with it.

I walked up the beach to the applause of the few remaining spectators.

I secretly hoped they could see and appreciate the scar on my thigh, a visible reminder of hip replacement surgery. My policy is to use the old war injury to best advantage!

The kids cheered me on and I felt pretty special.

Then my gorgeous 10-year-old nephew piped up with: "The man with one leg beat you!"

Go the one-legged man!

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