After running low on open water races around NSW, I decided to see what else I could take on. The 20km Rottnest Channel has always looked too crowded, so I looked toward Lake Argyle in the Kimberley, Western Australia. At 1,000 km², Lake Argyle holds 0.7 million mega litres (8.6 million acre feet) of water. This is over 18 times the volume of water contained in Sydney Harbour. If the lake ever floods to its maximum capacity then the volume will more than triple – Sydney Harbour could be filled more than 70 times. The 35,000 crocodiles it is home to would be the least of my worries…
I was lucky enough to have registered, with the race selling out in two hours. Ten months of training saw me turn over endless hours staring at a black line and numerous 10km fresh water races, including Lake Burley Griffin and Lake Talbot. I probably put more stress on myself than was necessary – working full time, studying and trying building my photography career probably didn’t help.
While training seemed to go forever, with hours increasing at the pool, my social life slowly deteriorating, and work becoming less of a priority, the swim was approaching fast. My support crew included my Dad (Chop Chop). Chop packed up his ute with all my gear, and his gear, in preparation to drive across Australia – from Sydney to the Kimberley. I should mention that Chop had never actually seen me swim or surf before. And, despite not being able to swim himself, got his boat licence to be the c’pn of my support crew. I think he naively thought this would be the only time I would do something like this. Luckily, I was able to utilise his skills as a doctor and physiologist to provide medical and nutrition support. My Mum decided not to go. Probably a sensible decision.
We set up tents and camped the night before at the edge of the lake. I remember Chop telling me that it was okay if I didn’t feel like competing or if I didn’t finish. He knew I was anxious. Despite the anxiety, I remember saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll finish it.” I didn’t sleep well that night. It was windy. The stars were incredible.
A perfect sunrise in the morning made the organisers and swimmers excited. The course, designed to have a tailwind the whole way, looked perfect. Everything was going to plan. We got on the tinny and started out toward the 20km start line. Somewhere along the way, an unseasonable torrential storm hit the lake. With no visibility, boats got lost finding their way to the start line. This delayed the swim and caused significant levels of anxiety. After finding our way through the storm to the start line, I dived in. The majority of swimmers were attempting the 20km race as a team or 10km race solo or as a team. Just six swimmers were attempting the 20km solo.
I’d expected to complete the first 10km in 2:30 or less. It took over 4 hours to knock that over. The headwinds were fierce. The waves and chop forced a technically inaccurate stroke, just to make it through. Chop said I was just pounding through the water. I remember swearing at myself and finding someone else to blame for making the decision to compete. It seemed the other swimmers attempting the 20km solo were incredibly experienced. I was taking a risk – just for something to do. I could hear Chop yelling at me and looking incredibly nervous.
At the 10km mark, I turned the sharp right to attempt the second 10km. It looked easy. The water appeared calm, the waves had ended. I thought the calmness would see me pull into the finish line in just a couple of hours. It was deceptive. The headwind was still there. And the still water was difficult to pull through. The resistance was enormous. I remember stopping and swearing words I’d never sworn before. Chop said I had 24 hours either side of the swim to say whatever the hell I wanted. So I went for it. It seemed like forever. It was.
My kayaker tolerated me.
I didn’t have as much water or nutrition as planned. Very little. I was dehydrated and tired. I was in pain and regretting everything – I just didn’t want to admit that to anyone. One of my friends couldn’t make the swim to be part of the support crew. I missed them. They would have calmed me down.
With 2km to go and limited time left, I managed to fix my stroke and just go for it. I thought the other 20km solo swimmers were hours ahead of me. As I approached the finish line, I started to cry. but I didn’t want people to see, so I stopped. So much had gone into this swim, so much emotion that could never be described. So much I couldn’t ever say.
I remember finishing the last 10km in about 3 hours, pulling my cap and goggles off and saying, “Fuck That”. The crowd laughed and poured me champagne. My time was recorded as 7:20:00. I was the 24th person to have ever completed the 20km solo. The other 20km solo swimmers weren’t that far ahead of me. One didn’t finish. We weren’t racing. You couldn’t in those conditions.
Chop looked at me from the tinny and, with pride, cried. I’d never seen that expression on his face. My support kayaker was the same.
If you knew the full story you’d understand.