Swim for Sight 2013

Back in the water last Sunday at Shelley Beach. Last time in the ocean was Galway Bay about 7 weeks ago. Struggling since to get back into training, with a desultory couple of sessions a week with the Vladster.

Met the swimmer James Pittar a few weeks ago at the wedding festivities of TC “the Cobra” Courtney and his lovely bride, Michelle. James is totally blind but this didn’t stop him swimming the English Channel a few years ago. His last adventure was in the Bering Straits some months ago,  swimming from Alaska to Russia.

The wedding was held on the Saturday  7th September, Federal Election Day, at the St Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Manly. In the heart of the electorate of the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. The church hall was being used as a polling station and one metre high photos of the bould Tony festooned the church grounds, adding a unique garnishing garland to the wedding proceedings.

TC and Michelle got hitched in a beautiful ceremony during which surfmuppet was asked to get up on the altar and read the prayers of the faithful to the congregation. Not up on the actual altar but at the lecture by the side of the altar, flanked by Father John Hannon and Father Tony Brady (formerly of County Cavan and a priest in Australia since 1962). Went off without a hitch, or a thunderbolt from above or the ground opening up and swallowing the muppet for the cheek of him actually coming into the church never mind stepping up to the altar.

Off to the Long Reef Golf Club for the reception. Great speeches with the sound of the ocean gently breaking on the beach just outside the door. TC introduces James during the reception and SM gets roped into joining the gang that’s going to swim with James as he finishes his 12km “swim for sight 2013” trek from Long Reef back to Manly, via Shelley. Fundraiser for the Fred Hollows Foundation which restores sight to thousands around the world every year.

Arrive at Shelley early and hang around for a bit in the sunshine. TC was going to come along and cheer us all off but he was bitten by a spider or tick the day before and is feeling poorly with his leg and hip swollen up to buggery. On heavy duty antibiotics after a night in casualty.

Harkeet, the lovely lady from Fred’s Foundation, arrives with team, sets up a teardrop banner on the beach near the ramp by the front of the restaurant – and the gang assemble, sign the waiver form, get green swimming caps and yarn until James and entourage hove into view just off the beach.

There’s a couple of IRBs provided by the North Steyne SLSC there and several water safety heads, one of whom provides a briefing. It’s all about not crowding out James and having a bit of fun, waiting at the set of cans off North Steyne, and letting him get onto the sand first.

And they’re off. Water is a bit crisp for a few minutes but the 16 degrees is ideal once we all get going. Pace is very relaxed and a couple of bods are going it in deathfly (aka butterfly) and backstroke. SM, trying to correct errant body position ongoing problem, has head down and arse up and duly smacks his noggin into the back of one of the paddle boards.

For a moment it looks like there’s going to be two blind swimmers in the race.

One chap causes a bit of a stir at the start. Has a shark shield wrapped around his ankle and is holding the streamer coiled up until letting it loose once in the water. Explains it helps him overcome a morbid fear of the Noahs. Then he accidentally demonstrates it’s sting by inadvertently zapping himself and almost leaping out of his skin. See him during the swim with the streamer stretched out behind and keep a wide berth in case of coming a cropper as well. Not a Noah in sight anyway. Must be working.

The field spreads out and as always Manly Cove provided value for money with the ocean flat, the sun shining, the water crisp and clear, muscles pumping out a slow but steady rhythm. Try the stretch stretch stretch wide armpit engage the lats style Vlad and crew have been unsuccessfully trying to imprint on this impervious brain all year but who cares…thoroughly enjoying the swim.

The 40-0dd escort pod regroups at the pink pointy buoys off North Steyne and then roundup behind James as he and his sighters engage the mild bit of surf up onto the beach. Lots of photos from waiting journos and family and friends as James come onto dry land. Handshakes all round.

Bit of a bum note when one of the pod collapses and is triaged by the lifeguards, wrapped in a silver sheet, and is carted off by the paramedics  as the remainder of us watch from the balcony of the surf club while wolfing down complimentary sausage sangers, snacks, fruit, water and beer for those who are drinking.

No one seems sure what happened to cause the collapse but the muppet keeps his eye open for shark shield man. Maybe the victim got too close coming in on the surf break and copped a zap fit for a white pointer with a tooth ache.  As they say in France, qui sait?

Anyway, James is having a whale of a time back in the bar getting congratulated and downing a few cold ones. When the tally is counted, almost $17,000 has been raised by James et al, representing restoring sight to 680 people in the developing world.

As we write, James Walker is half way across the English Channel and Blackdog Hanby is lining up to hit the water tomorrow morning, 10am Sydney time – both men joining that select band, the warriors of the channel, swimming onward into legend.

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