Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Rotto: The Duo

I have fluked swims before, but nothing on this scale. Rottnest Island is 19.7km as the crow flies from Cottesloe Beach. Hence Cotto to Rotto or, to be formal, the Rottnest Island Channel swim.

What started as a solo attempt was thwarted by the black dog: my first bipolar depression relapse since diagnosis 4 years earlier. So I'm very pleased to say we raised over $5,000 for the Black Dog Institute.

I had a boat but no-one to swim with. Nicole had no boat, but wanted to swim. It was a match made in heaven - for many more reasons than mere practicalities.

To say my prep was inadequate is an epic understatement. I could bore you with the litany of illnesses and injuries which kept me out of the pool but that would make for the most boring blog post ever. Suffice it to say I made it to two squad sessions in February.

By the time the race rolled around I had busted my back. This was diagnosed 3 weeks out. Some intense physio meant I could walk and swim up to 500m without pain! Woot! At the 500m mark I had to jump out and stretch out my back. It turned out this was the perfect prep for a duo attempt, because you're constantly changing over.

I manage the flight over okay. Though people must have assumed my bladder was the size of a peanut given how often I walked the aisle.

Test swim went okay with only a little soreness, but it was the longest continuous swim I had done in months.

Race day dawned beautifully, setting the stage for a perfect swimming day and I headed to the harbour to meet our captain, whom I shall henceforth call The Dude, because that is what he was. Our amazing support crew, Mel and Emily met me there. Super early, because Nic had allowed in excess time. I cannot adequately describe what it is like joining the most epic flotilla possibly ever assembled. 600 boats. As many paddlers. And 2500 swimmers. It was a huge festival atmosphere with boats as far as the eye could see in either direction.

And we're off. Murray, our incredibly generous paddler who was motivated by our cause to come back to the race after a break inspired by some spectacular bratish behaviour by a soloist had this amazing pink dive stick which made it easy to pick Nic from the pack. We hit the beautiful masted marker and it's changeover time.

Shifts 1-3 pass without pain. Well a few stingers but whatever.

Shifts 4-6 pass without pain.

I'm stretching and well medicated. I have a hot water bottle under my back. But it's coping.

Nic is swimming up a storm. Her stroke is a thing of efficient beauty. She is covering almost twice the distance in her 15 minute slot than I am in my 10 minute slots.

We hit half way in under 4 hours. We are performing better than expected when we're both at full strength.  And I am hardly that.

But at halfway, I discover my strength. I know I'm going to make it without pushing into agony. So I pump up the stroke rate, bung on the kick and start to swim faster.

The water is unbelievably clear and generally wonderfully warm. But hoo boy there are some cold patches. Nicole having almost no insulations starts to suffer. So we swap shift lengths so she can get warm. And I am super glad I packed my hypothermia kit.

Given we had planned that Nicole would have to swim the lion's share (probably 15km to my 5km) it was such a wonderful thing to be able to step up as the weaker member of the team.

But as we said farewell to our boat and The Dude who managed to get to the last possible buoy, I was struggling a bit. There was a bit of pain. But I was so close I knew I could push through. Awesome team work til the end, Nicole let me draft off her feet and then slowed so we could cross the line together. Stroke for stroke.

And what a finish line it was. We were hoping for 8-9 hours and went 7:50.

Thank you so much to all our donors, our unbelievably awesome crew (Steve - The Dude, El Capitan; Casey - first mate; Murray - Paddler; Emily and Mel - crew extraordinaire), our amazing chauffeurs, our coaches and swim squad, our support crew on both sides of the continent, and the Pacific ocean, any my incredible hosts who opened their hearts,family and home to me. You made this possible.

In particular I'd like to thank my physios, who signed off on me going when everyone was against it, Pete Dunne and Kate Smart who were resolute in their belief of me, Charm Frend whose back is completely $@^$%&@#^!$#@%^$@$&@$  stuffed and taught me how to swim with a bad back and above all, the wonderful Nicole. I tried so many times to pull out, convinced no-one can pull Rotto out of thin air. She was determined I would swim. Even if it was 1km. In the end it was 11km for me and 13km for her, 1km of which was shared. It was a beautiful partnership. And I never had so much FUN! Seriously, duo'ing is stupid amounts of fun! Neither of us could believe how much fun we had!!

Homemade flag

Ready as we'll ever be
Matching Suits - Sam and Nic post test swim

Our Noble Steed with enormous Shark painted on the side.
The Flotilla assembles

Beautiful day dawning

Halfway in under 4 hours
14km mark. Nic swimming up a storm.

Mel signalling 2 minutes to change over

The V for Victory sign that forms the basis of the Black Dog Logo

Very important colour co-ordination.

A source of endless inspiration: a very big hero, Pete Dunne - soloist for the umpteeneth time. On Rotto Island with myself and Nicole

Off the Red Eye and straight to Cloey for training.