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Book Six: Patience and passion; a work in progress.

Chapter One: Radioactive Silver at Hazelwood.

I’ve been counting up the years I’ve been an ocean swimmer; 11 years of competing and 12 years of training, all with the same unofficial club. In that time, I’ve had three comebacks (this year being my third, and hopefully my last) and every year surprisingly still feels fresh and exciting, like it’s my first year all over again. How is it that my ocean swimming fires are still burning?

I consider myself a “work in progress”, although not artistic, musical or theatrical (some may disagree with the latter). I’m not finished in this sport, despite my body throwing up a few annoying road blocks to navigate, nor do I want to be finished in this sport (statistics show that the longer I’m in it, the better my chances at a podium. I’ve just got to get through the hotly contested 50-59 year old category and I’m laughing). My race day mantras have always been “Longer… Stronger”, “Strength in every stroke”, “Stopping is not an option”. But this year I’m adding to my repertoire… “Patience and passion”.

There’s no doubt about it, although I’m mostly a solo wolf pack when it comes to training, much preferring my own uncomplicated training schedule of “fit it in where you can, amongst our busy family training commitments”, I’ve made a concerted effort to schedule more training in over winter. Having to work around the nasty patella bursar excision and arthroscopy of 2014 has actually made me more aware of the importance of consistency and commitment. There’s nothing like being told “No, you can’t train for six weeks Nicole,” to make you want to train more passionately than ever. You know the old saying, “You don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone”.

This winter, I’ve hit the pool with more gusto and drive than that of seasons past and I’ve had an early indication that this patience has enhanced my passion for all things aqua. The Hazelwood Pondage Sauna Swim was always my goal, used to gauge my rehab, post-surgery. The closest thing to a controlled open water race in terms of conditions, many in fact are turned off by this race, due to its location away from the metro area, in Morwell, its fresh water and non-wetsuit rule, and its warm temperatures. The pondage is actually the cooling pools for the Hazelwood Power Station. (I always have visions of Radio Active Homer Simpson when I think of Hazelwood?!?) Nevertheless, it’s a swim I count on each year to tick off whether the kilometre upon kilometre of black line following have actually been worth it.

This year, it was.

Created with flickr slideshow.


A contingent of three Peninsula Pirates made the trip to Morwell, all entering the 2.5km swim. Mass starts of men first, then women found me measuring up my opponents on the start line. Roughly four “old farts” and far too many young girls 12 and upwards with no race start etiquette, giggling, laughing and jumping all over each other, punctuating their sentences with far too many “OMGs” and “likes” for me. They failed to receive my eye rolls and “tuts”, until the “Thirty seconds, you’re in the starter’s hands” instruction, then… magical silence. I could actually hear myself think for the first time in five minutes.

The rest of the race is, of course, as all races go for me: swim, swim, fight for position, swim, swim, moderate breathing, sight buoys, peloton stretches out and finally, as always, I find myself on my own, by my calculations last. How sobering! Is it at this point that I face palm myself and listen to the little voice inside my head that starts yelling at me, “Look at what you’ve done to yourself Chester!”? No, it’s time to start counting.

Counting — my form of deep breathing and swimming meditation — calms my nerves and helps me to switch onto autopilot. It works when I’m feeling a little edgy and a bit frazzled. It also stops the demons from ruining a perfectly good race strategy which is just: start… swim… finish. 23, 24, 25...

By the first quarter, I’d caught a couple of swimmers on my inside left, and after the half-way turning buoys (the only ones I could actually see throughout the entire race), I’d caught sight of one or two ahead of me. I finished the race feeling quite satisfied: all those 400’s we’d been doing at pace at squad in the pool had paid off; I still had energy in the tank. Had I swum hard enough?

Presentations saw three Pirates take home two firsts and one second, mine being the second, by default actually, as there were only two old farts in my category. What I was more pleased about, was my 10-minute improvement on last year’s time. Patience does pay off, in the form of a silver medal for first loser, as we joke about in my family.

Now, it’s head down, bum up, keep on pushing times and listening to my coach until the next scheduled races in December and January when it really heats up in Victoria. I’m well in the habit of scheduling swims in during the week and making the most of weekend pool and bay swim sessions, training at Pirate Headquarters, the new $49.7m aquatic centre in my home town and, of course, my beloved deep blue bay which is now a balmy  15.6 degrees. I’m also totes excited about making the trip up to Brisbane to share a certain Rottnest Island Tweety bird team member’s 40th Birthday, in the form of one Michelle Massy in November. (I pity Michelle’s poor husband. I’m sure it’s going to be a LOOOOONG three days for him… Apologies in advance!)

I’ve also been busy working with four other dedicated unofficial swim club members, taking over the reins of planning and organising our ever growing motley crew of passionate open water swimmers, known as the Peninsula Pirates. Groups don’t usually manage themselves and after our long standing head honchos decided it was time to step aside after 10 years of wrangling, I knew it was time to step up or step off. Luckily, four others have the same passion for the group as I do and we’ve planned for a new and exciting season of swimming, with the philosophy of maximising participation and supporting local clubs that have always welcomed us with open arms. It’s the start of an exciting new chapter for us.

Here are the results from Hazelwood, also the Victorian Open Water Championships: http://my3.raceresult.com/details/index.php?page=4&eventid=32066&lang=en
And a few snaps of the day: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56382851@N03/sets/72157648441702840/

A shout out to Bear, a reader of oceanswims.com and a new training partner with the Pirates. Great to meet you. Glad I could share some anecdotes with you about the Rottnest Island swim!

Till next time,

Nicole Chester
@AquaGirl72 on Twitter

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