Wow-o-wow! What an amazing day Saturday was! How lucky we are to have such a world class open water swimming event right on our door-step! Even though I wasn't racing this year I'd have to say it was probably my favourite year so far - how about you?
As I've mentioned previously, I tend to personally alternate years: 1) swimming; 2) coaching / supporting. This year was my year to coach / support whilst my wife Michelle swam her second DUO with her mate Karlee Cannon (Michelle's third overall DUO, with myself in 2012). I have also been coaching and mentoring top open water swimmer Brad Smith over the last 18 months and after last year's 5th place finish, Brad's ultimate goal was a win this year. We got within a whisker of that (30 meters to be precise) but no biscuit sadly…but more on that in a moment.
The conditions were stunning, but as usual a current around the island caught a few people out. This was running very moderately from north to south up until about 10.30am and then switched to a much stronger south to north current after this point (at least according to the information I was receiving at http://m2.mapswim.com/rotto.php). This made for some tactical racing all round, which really added to the excitement.
All up we had 70 swimmers from the squad and my 1-2-1 sessions involved in the event this year, with at least another 50 of you involved in the support crewing like myself. Well done to all of you who finished - I hope you are deservedly proud of yourself.
As is customary, I'd like to highlight the achievements and quirks of a few of the finishers within the squad in particular; notwithstanding, I am extremely proud of all of your achievements and I look forward to hearing more of your tales in due course!
- Stuart Moran and his 14yo son Hugh dipped under 5 hours and has inspired me to want to do the same with my son Jackson, albeit in 2023! Well done guys! Similarly, Chris Foley and Mark Lewis also competed and finished in fine fettle with their children in the DUO event. Inspiring stuff!
- Renee Waller was the fastest female soloist from the squad and absolutely smashed it in 5h27m - incredible swimming Renee - I knew you could do it! When Renee first joined the squad a couple of years ago she was doing 100 and 200m intervals hitting about 1:38/100m - at the weekend she averaged that for 20km or 200 x 100m - brilliant Renee!
- Jesper Jensen overcame some sickness to finish sub-6 hours in his first solo swim - a very commendable time indeed!
- Vaughn Davies, Nathan Linehan and Simon Hazeldine all finished their solo swims within 0.5 seconds of each other and just a shade over 6 hours despite Simon being in a different wave entirely to Vaughn and Nathan! How's that for pacing! Unfortunately Roy McGregor who was sharing a boat with Simon had to abandon with sea sickness at the 8km mark. These guys all swim together in the Thursday evening squad and will next year compete as a Team given how well matched they are. They've become great friends as a result of swimming in the Swim Smooth Perth squad - bravo boys!
- Similarly, Anton Colev, Lindsay Dodd and John Chipponeri all finished within 2 minutes of each other in ~6h15m. John's finishing-line salute was very befitting of a man who's battled some extreme health issues in the last 12 months and it brought a massive tear to my eye and a huge fuzzy feeling inside to see how far John has come since joining the squad three years ago. Well done lads!
- Despite some doubts several weeks ago on both her part and my own, Chloe Escott overcame some energy and mojo concerns which many swimmers go through in the lead-up to this event. I was so proud to see Chloe finish in 6h20m and do herself proud. Her smile was electric after the event!
- Todd Dennis wore my super-pants to full effect to knock-out a very commendable 6h33m in his first Rottnest Solo swim - we're all very proud of you Todd!
- Despite his new son arriving 6 weeks premature, Nick Muir finished the task that he started 6+ months ago by getting himself across to Thomson's bay despite some very early-on sea-sickness woes. A great achievement Nick to share with young Olly!
- After not finishing last year (but being oh-so-close!) Richard Kelso-Marsh completed what he set out to do and completed his first Rottnest Solo swim in 8h24m - well done Richard, your belief and conviction was tangible!
- Jon Turner, John Edwards, Andrew Mitchell, Ross Robertson, John Muir, Wayne Morris, Serena Wells, Amanda Nitschke, Royston Colam, and Robert Franklyn all showed their previous Rottnest Solo finishing ability to complete yet another swim in fine fashion - well done all!
- Showing great team spirit were the "2 Plums" girls team of Kirsty Barrett, Margaret Shine and Jane Vince-Jones with their other team-mate Soo-Im Lim. The girls have trained so well together and despite Margaret becoming ill on the boat, all finished under 8 hours - brilliant stuff girls!
- Well done also to everyone else who competed in the DUO and TEAM events - I'd love to hear a little more about your adventures if you'd care to share them with me!
And last, but not least, I wanted to formerly recognise the efforts and achievement of Abbey Valentine in getting across to Rottnest Island. Unbeknownst to her, her support boat was spotted going into reverse at about the 14km mark which resulted in a disqualification for Abbey through no fault of her own. Whilst we appreciate that rules are put in place for the safety of all competitors, Abbey did brilliantly well to swim across to the island and finish despite this issue being flagged. We think you're brilliant Abbey and I for one am very, very proud of all that you have accomplished this summer with your training partner Chloe. Well done!
Brad's Race for the Win!
Never have I been quite so inspired by someone's deep-seated conviction for trying to win a race and to do all that is humanly possible to achieve that goal as I have in coaching Brad Smith.
I first met Brad when he smoked me clean of his heals at the 2014 City Beach 10km open water swim. This was my first event back after back surgery and I'd never heard of this young 24 year old super-fish before. We paced it out for the first couple of Ks side-by-side, stroke-4-stroke until he clearly got bored with that and into a massive swell, left me for dead! Incredible - I thought I was swimming well but he annihilated me by 12 minutes! At the next event (Coggee 5km) I had buckled my belt and finished directly behind Brad just 0.5 seconds back. Clearly I'd won his respect with this change of pace (!) and for the 2015 Solo swim we subsequently became great training partners thereafter. Brad went on to finish 5th in 2015, with myself a good way back in 10th. I was impressed. On the ferry back to North Mole, Brad told me how he wanted to win the event in 2016. He had planned to do the majority of his swimming with the Breakers swim club, and asked me to write his overall program and generally oversee what he was doing to keep him on track. He said he wanted to start the following day! Whereas most take off a couple of months for some well-needed R&R, Brad was deadly serious - he wanted the win and he wanted it bad! And so we started on the mission of trying to win the 2016 Rottnest Channel Swim.
Back in September, when the Champions of the Channel event was announced, Brad was interviewed about his ambitions and they featured us giving a grimace to each other down at Cottesloe Beach. Little did we know then just how close he'd come to winning the event!
After a brilliant 12 months preparation where precious little went "wrong" and Brad managed to swim a 10km open water event at Sorrento Beach in exactly 2 hours despite having already swum a hard 8km ocean swim immediately before for his "warm-up", he was ready. And so to race morning…
The plan was always to go out steady. Brad's main concern were the competitors Lars Bottelier, Lachlan Tassell and Jaime Bowler, who ended up finishing 14 minutes, 15 minutes and 22 minutes behind Brad respectively come the finish line. The interesting thing was that up until the 10km mark, Brad was behind them all! We had planned to hold steady until the 12km mark and then let it rip. As it happened, an 18yo competitor by the name of Ben Freeman who wasn't listed on the official start list for that particular wave (though had properly entered the event), had gone off like a scorched cat and was at this point over 350m ahead of Brad (I was using a range finder to determine the distances between all his competitors and keep Brad informed). After a little research it turned out that Ben is the youngest ever Australian to complete the English Channel swim, having done so in 9h10m in 2015, so we knew he had the goods and the staying power. He's also been mentored by English Channel World Record Holder, Trent Grimsey (6h55m!). Once this intel was in, I knew we could not let this "surprise" competitor get any further ahead, and so we announced "war" a little earlier than we had planned.
Brad went from 4.5km/h in the early stages, to 5.1km/h and finally held 5.4km/h for the last 5km. It was an incredible show of pacing. Brad had started out within the group that contained the DUOs of Tim and Ben Hewitt, and Jeremy Brook-Smith and Gareth Evans, but was left by this group at about 2km. To show Brad's incredible resilience and performance that day, despite the fact that two of these four swimmers have won this event Solo on numerous occasions, you'll imagine my coaching delight when we started to catch them all back at 16km and then blow past the two DUO teams. It was incredible!
I'd been watching the currents all morning and whilst Ben Freeman in first place had drifted slightly south of the Rhumb-line, I could see that the current was running north to south at this point. We made the decision to press slightly north knowing it'd swing us in during the final couple of KMs. This is where we started to make up some big ground on Ben, going from 350m behind to just 30m within the space of about 4 or 5km. Brad's strength and his skipper's prowess on the helm started to muster up a charge like I've never seen before, nor doubt I will ever again. It was breath-taking and so, so exciting!
Sadly Brad didn't quite get there and credit to Ben Freeman, he held his own and ended up extending the gap to Brad in the final KM by about 110m. So, so close! I predicted Brad would go 4h20m, but was slightly off in my predictions - he went 4h20m01s!
Needless to say Brad was hugely disappointed. It was a brilliant performance and nothing more could have been done. Sometimes you give absolutely everything and it's still not enough. But Brad will be back. When asked if he felt we'd left his charge too late, Brad responded no, he'd have blown up sooner. Should he have gone out harder? No, he'd have blown up much earlier. To put 14 to 22 minutes into your rivals in the latter half of this event is amazing. It shows patience and strength like no other.
So next time you're contemplating a long distance "whatever" try to be more like Brad! It takes patience and courage and it doesn't always pay off, but I truly believe that Brad got absolutely everything out of himself that day and I couldn't be more proud as one of his coaches and mentor.
Cheers everyone, here's to Rottnest 2017!