A hidden oasis just off the coast of Perth, populated by wildlife, quokkas and tourists alike this weekend Rottnest Island will be the finish line for those competing in the 29th Annual Rottnest Channel Swim.
First run in 1991 the swim, taking place on Saturday 23 February, will see 2494 swimmers ranging in age from 14-75 years attempt the open water swim spanning 19.7km from the scenic banks of Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island.
With a 54% return rate for participants, the swim itself has become one of Western Australia’s most renowned events. Participants have the option of completing the journey as a solo crossing, in duos or in teams of four as they race across the channel.
Swimmers will be racing to complete the course, spanning between 6.5-8 hours for the average swimmer but for 2018 men’s solo winner, Solomon Wright, it will be a race against the record he set last year of 3:59:28, as he joins the 366 solo crossings taking place.
Swimming Australia caught up with a few of the competitors ahead of Saturday’s race.
Attempting her 30th solo crossing at the 2019 event, seasoned marathon swimmer, Barbara Pellick credits her continual success to goal setting.
“I love training, it’s fun for me and I like the process of setting goals and working towards them. Whether it’s marathon swimming or in the pool you need to set goals along the way and they have to be something you really want,” said Pellick.
Pellick holds a stellar marathon swimming career, not only as one of the 1,831 people to solo swim across the English Channel but as one of the illustrious Batonbearers carried the Queen’s Baton as part of the Baton Relay in the lead up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Sharing her wisdom to fellow swimmers, Pellick highlights the importance of ‘game day’ preparation.
“It’s a 20km swim, you really need to focus and prepare for it.”
Pellick uses a combination of pool and ocean training to assist her in preparation for the day.
“Focus on the things that you can control, don’t get hung up on the weather and things outside your realm, there’s no controlling it so why put energy into it,” emphasised the West Coolup native.
Pellick’s parting words prior to her crossing were her personal mantra, “fitness gets you to the start line, determination gets you to the finish.”
Seeing Pellick cross the finish line on Saturday will surely be a race highlight many will remember.
Australian Dolphin Sam Sheppard will be attempting his first solo crossing this weekend, coming off a stellar open-water season in Victoria the world champion swimmer will have some good old-fashioned family rivalry at play as he races against his father Michael Sheppard.
“My old man did the solo last year, so racing against him should be good fun”
Having retired from elite swimming two years ago Sheppard still has a big place in his heart for open-water swimming.
“It’s fun, it’s something different to racing in the pool and it felt like a natural progression for me. Swimming in all different open-water environments, all around the world is just so appealing.”
Competing against formidable opponents, with the likes of WA’s open water state champion Rhys Mainstone and current record-holder Solomon Wright for the top slot, Sheppard is looking forward to the challenge.
“I’d be pretty happy with a top-three spot, but it’s just fun jumping in the water, it’s a way to de-stress for me.”
Seemingly unphased by the potential four hours of continual swimming awaiting him Sheppard is optimistic and eager to get in the water.
“Yes, it’ll be long and yes it’ll hurt but I just want to enjoy it.”
Sharing his top tips for surviving the long swim Sheppard recommends having a variety of food available with your support boat.
“‘When you’re out in that environment, you need to keep energised and stay hydrated, but you really want something that you actually want to eat. So, having a few options is normally how I do it.”
Surrounded by friends and competitors, Sheppard’s inaugural crossing is hotly anticipated by the community.
Jamie Bowler joined Pellick in carrying the Queen’s Baton across the channel last year and is back for her eighth solo crossing after winning the women’s category in 2016 with a time of 4:42:15.
The City Beach local holds the record as part of the fastest female duo for her crossing in 2014 with Sacha Downing in 4:22:46, citing her love for open water swimming as a motivator with the flexibility it provides her.
“I used to do pool swimming as a kid and I eventually moved over to open-water. As I grew older and work and family commitments came into it, open water swimming still allows me to compete without having to be to serious and use it as my own challenge.”
Years later Bowler is still an avid squad swimmer training with two squads currently.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends over the years through my squad swimming, I still actually swim in a squad with my friends from when I was seven.”
Much like Pellick, Bowler has a simple goal for herself in the 2019 swim.
“Each time I’ve done a solo crossing, my goal has been to complete that one only. I’ve now completed seven crossings; my goal is to survive the next one and complete eight solo crossings.”
Bowler continues to be a strong ambassador for the sport and the community, showcasing the benefits of swimming for life. Tipped to be one to watch for this year solo crossing in the elite field Bowler will surely be making waves this weekend.
No doubt there will be stiff competition when the swimmers hit the water this weekend. For more information on the event itself and live updates throughout the day head to the Rottnest Channel Swim site.
For a behind the scenes look at the swim, stay tuned to @swimmingaustralia on Instagram throughout the day.