Pauline and Ivan Wingate are the reason I turned up for my first swim with the Mandurah Mannas, three summers ago. We had competed together for many years in the local Triathlon Club and I was always impressed with their swimming ability and times. On the other hand, I was a terrible swimmer. The swimming leg was by far my slowest (in Tri's) and having lost my passion for pool training long ago, was resigned to things remaining that way. When they told me their Club was now swimming regularly at Doddi's Beach, I thought I didn't have much to lose by giving it a go.
On the first morning, I think it was a Friday, I remained in the car until the very impressive looking group - not a wetsuit in sight - headed off the grass to enter the water. I then joined in at the back. A senior (like myself!) male fell in step nearby and after introductions, he explained this was also his first swim with the Club. I noticed he had trouble walking and the thought crossed my mind - if he has mobility issues this might be someone who may stay around my level in the water. Wrong! I don't know how he did on that first swim; however, within a couple of weeks he was right up there with the better/best members of the Club. Apparently, he had been a very good swimmer in his youth.
My first swim was a very different affair. I waited till everyone had left and then set off, hugging the shore. After about 150m, felt tired, hoped the ground was underneath me and stood up. All the other swimmers had disappeared up ahead and only a couple of people were in the water around me. They didn't appear to be going where the others were and I'm not sure if they were part of the group. I thought I can't give up now so carried on and after around another 150m stood up again. So it went on until I had swum what I thought was way more than 500m and thought "these people need to re-assess their
distances!" Standing peering ahead to see if I was anywhere near the reef (the turning point to start the swim back) I couldn't see it and had no real idea where it was, but realised I wasn't there when I thought I could see swimmers coming back towards me. I remained there until they arrived and then turned and swam back, soon thinking "when is that toilet block going to show up?" As soon as it did, I was out of there.
Despite such an abysmal effort Pauline, Ivan and everyone else I was introduced to at coffee were extremely welcoming and encouraging, but I will have to admit it was hard to shake the feeling of "what am I doing here with this great group of swimmers? I'm just not a swimmer's bootlace!" (I think I may have worn some members down with the amount of times I expressed that latter sentiment in the first couple of years). The reality check for me was yes, I really am a very poor swimmer, I have distorted vew of how far 500m is when swimming and what am I going to do about it. It crossed my mind to give it away but knew I wouldn't be happy with that.
Therefore, I started coming a couple of times during the week and then added on Saturday mornings. I continued to hug the shore, tried to put into practice the very helpful tips members gave me (especially the ones from the famous Patriach of the Club). One day, after a long time, I realised I had swum out near the yellow markers and reached the reef with some people still coming (not many). I turned and swam back to the starting point (as opposed to stopping short at the bags and getting out) AND at a later time, even turned around and did another lap. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
It was following that achievement it crossed my mind "if I keep this up I might be able to become a swimmer after all!