Marathon swimmers say mission complete
BY JULIA WADE
Mangawhai’s coastline became the scene for a ‘mission complete’ on Waitangi Day, as two dynamic local swimmers came to shore after an impressive marathon swim.
In a quest to raise funds for orphaned Thai children, Jacquelyn Schirmer and Simon Bennett swam 26.4km from Taranga and Marotere Islands (Hen and Chicks) to Mangawhai Heads surf beach on February 6, the challenge taking two hours less than originally predicted, clocking in at 7.5 hours.
Following a karakia (Maori blessing) from Ihirangi Heke the evening before, ‘advising the Maori gods of the ocean, tides, currents and wind to keep an eye on us’, the pair dove into the deep blue at 7am, accompanied by a support crew including Simon’s wife Megan who followed her husband for five hours in a kayak. Although the weather was stunning with glassy waters around Sail Rock, Simon says the changing wind also created choppy seas.
“It was a pleasant day, a good swim… but we had to battle the southerly push of wind for the first couple of hours and then a south-easterly… actually it was the hardest swim I’ve ever done.”
He says the rugged waters started to take its toll, with the final two-hour stretch being especially intense.
“I knew it was going to be painful but wasn’t expecting quite so much in the last few hours. Did an Ironman a few years ago but had forgotten all about the pain that came with it,” he says. “Was feeling shattered but I remembered what [endurance athlete] Samantha Gash said: ‘Whatever you do, just keep moving’.”
The island swim is the result of six months training, a staggering 320km in practice swims just to get to the start line. Jacquelyn, who is training to swim the Cook Strait in 2020, follows a daunting weekly timetable of early morning ocean or pool swims, hours of work at Mangawhai Osteopath, and ending with late-evening gym sessions. The challenge requires dedication, determination and saying ‘no’ a lot she says.
“I say no to coffee with friends, to almost everything social, and extra commitments. I feel anxious that I won’t have any friends left after this!” she says. “However I say ‘yes’ to my dreams. The island swim was amazing!”
Simon’s chosen charity, Hands Across the Water, was initially established to support thousands of Thai orphans after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, and thoughts of the children helped him persevere he says.
“It’s interesting what you think about when you’re swimming for seven hours. Thought a lot about my family but also these kids, quite inspiring to think about them, makes you push on,” he says. “Anyway job done. We had a great team and thank you to all our supporters… mission completed.”
Simon and Megan have also signed up to a five day, 500km bike ride through Thailand in March to help raise money for Hands Across the Water via land.
Interested in donating? Visit Island Swim @islandswim2019 on Facebook or handsgroup.org.au for more information.
Simon and Jacquelyn with Ihirangi Heke who gave a karakia and advised the ocean gods to look out for the two swimmers.
From island to the coast; Simon and Jacquelyn rise from the surf after 7.5 hours to be greeted by supporters and well-wishers.