Are you looking for a challenge? Training for the Rottnest Channel Swim might be the perfect event. We spoke to some members who have completed the 19.7km open water swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dieter Gebauer has long been a keen swimmer and water polo player and you’ll usually find him at the pool in the mornings, supporting his children. But did you know, Dieter won the Open Men’s division of the Rottnest Channel Swim at the tender age of 14?
“I did solo swims in Year 9 and Year 10 and it was in Year 10 that I won the Open Men’s division of the Rottnest Channel Swim,” he recalls. “My name is on the board at the Rotto pub.”
Dieter says at the time of his win, he was in the Australian Open Water swimming team and competing nationally. He has competed in the Rottnest Channel Swim in the duos (he was also a winner in that category several times) and has taken part in some recreational team swims, recently alongside his nephew and brother (who he says is a loyal supporter of his and always generously allowed the use of his boat).
Competing in the swim has seen Dieter experience some memorable moments, including having to wait to let a Collins-class submarine go past him and the sighting of a large tiger shark. “My support crew didn’t believe me at the time that I had seen a shark,” he laughs. “The shark then appeared further down the pack, and it was announced on the radio. Then they believed me.”
Swimming has been and continues to be a valuable activity for Dieter for health and work-life balance. “My son is starting open water swimming and has had a couple of races,” he says. “I’m more going into the coaching role with the kids now, although I still swim and play some water polo to keep my fitness up.
“Swimming is a good family pursuit,” he adds. “We go to the beach and swim, we go to the pool and I don’t think about work when I am doing all that. I have been finding a lot of enjoyment hanging out with my children and getting them on the path of being healthy, active and up early in the morning.
“My dad used to say when the sun gets up, you get up. His work ethic was you didn’t want to waste the day – and I think swimming is a good way to start the day as it is healthy, you don’t get any major injuries and it is a great family activity.”
To others thinking about giving the Rottnest Channel Swim a go, Dieter warns it is important to prepare. “It is not something you can pick up six weeks before the event; you need to train,” he advises. “You need to be able to be swimming a decent volume of kilometres to prepare to make the distance.”
Specialist Periodontist Dr Fleur Creeper completed a solo crossing in the Rottnest Channel Swim in 2011.
“I had always been a swimmer (never very fast), and taught swimming as a summer job while at Dental School, but enjoyed long distance swimming,” she recalls. “I got into open water swimming and half-ironman triathlons with friends, and it went from there. I started seeing the cars around Perth with those RCS plates and decided I wanted some. The only way to get them is to do the solo Channel Swim….so I did.
“I felt proud to get the plates and now when I pass the cars on the road it’s like a special club that you belong to. I have been a member since 2011 when I completed my solo crossing. I then repeated the feat in a team swim the following year (Team TopGums).”
Fleur says the lead-up to the event was great – swimming in various water bodies around Perth, including the Busselton Jetty Swim, Champion Lakes Regatta Centre
and Lake Leschenaultia.
“It’s amazing how different the water feels and affects your swimming buoyancy and style,” she says. “The camaraderie of training and events leading up to the day was amazing. Nothing can be more bonding than a bus ride into the city in your bathers with fellow swimmers, to swim back to Matilda Bay for the Swim Thru Perth.
“The day itself was gruelling and I am not sure I even remember it and the aftermath,” she adds. “I felt so emotional and exhausted wading out of the water after 7 hours and 20 minutes but looking back I am glad I did it. My dad, past ADAWA member Dr Ken Creeper (dec) skippered the boat, and I had a great support crew with me so it’s a team achievement, even though it was a solo swim. Without them I couldn’t have achieved it.”
When asked if swimming has encouraged work-life balance, Fleur says preparing for the swim gives you something else to focus on. “The repetitive nature of swimming and staring at that black line (or the ocean floor) is a very good form of meditation and helps you think things over and let the stress of life and work go,” she says. “The sound of the water and your breathing has a calming effect for me. I am not swimming as much as I used to but have replaced that with Pilates. The focus needed has a similar effect on your mind and helps strengthen your whole body at the same time. It is great for preparing your body for a day in clinical practice. I am tempted to get back into the pool more regularly as the lure of the Port to Pub registration plates is starting to creep up like the RCS ones did many years ago. Time will tell!”
To others who are considering taking on a challenge like the Rottnest Channel Swim, Fleur says to go for it. “Either as a team, duo or solo – it’s a great challenge,” she says. “Join the solo club if you can! Just be prepared for wet hair – I felt like I had wet hair for an entire summer!”
Dr Emma Lewis
Oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr Emma Lewis has taken part in the Rottnest Channel Swim three times. “One being unsuccessful, one taking a VERY long time and this year a slightly better time,” she says. “I had completed team events prior to that, but felt I needed to challenge myself with a solo. Plus, how cool would it be to look over to Rotto and say: ‘I swam there’!”
When asked what she enjoys most about competing, Emma says enjoyment is probably not a word that features highly when talking about a Rottnest Channel Swim solo. “It is many hours of swimming preparation to swim an event of many hours on a day with unpredictable conditions,” she explains. “There is no doubt that it is a team event with each swimmer requiring a skipper and boat plus a paddler alongside all the way – this is a huge commitment on their part. “For me, the enjoyment comes from the gratitude you have towards your support team when you make it across. It is an amazing day with so many people involved, which creates a real buzz and to think that we have this world-renowned event on our doorstep.”
Emma says she normally swims three times per week in a squad throughout winter and then cranks things up if preparing for the Rotto swim.
“I think any form of regular exercise keeps you sane; being part of a squad gives you added incentive and accountability, which is sometimes needed on those cold, dark winter mornings.”
To anyone considering doing the swim, Emma says if you are thinking about it, just do it! “Starting with a team event can give you an idea as to what’s involved and then it just sucks you in!”
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