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'Next year I will win’

A more gruelling two kilometres: Nina London after swimming 800 metres in the 33rd annual Round the Sound race (Photograph by Bill Rosser)

“528! Your turn to jump!” The echo of the megaphone rang in my ears. I looked out from the dock at Harrington Sound.

Below me bobbed a dozen orange swim caps. I could hear the noisy crowd at the Aquarium behind me, and I slid my goggles down over my eyes, and leapt into space.

When I was a young girl growing up in Siberia I was a competitive swimmer. Every afternoon was spent doing countless laps in a regulation size pool.

I loved the camaraderie of the team and the familiar ritual of events. I was strongest at backstroke, and I would look up at the ceiling and imagine myself far away, competing in Berlin or Rome. Now I was racing somewhere even more exotic, and far more beautiful.

I surfaced and looked around me. The shoreline at the Aquarium was crowded with spectators and I turned and looked out at a small island.

We would swim there and back, a distance of 800 metres. It was just one race of many in the 33rd annual Round the Sound Swim.

I loved the silky feel of the salt water, so different from a pool, and the sense of expansiveness, of no boundaries except the rocky shore. I thought for a moment of the corals and fish below me as I tread water and waited for the start.

I swam here two years ago. The Sound was rough and the race was a more gruelling two kilometres. I did not know the course, and I became exhausted.

I gasped at a girl of about ten as she passed me, “How far is the finish?”

She yelled back, “We are halfway!”

My resolve wavered, and then I thought of fabled long-distance swimmer, Florence Chadwick.

In 1951, she tried to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, a distance of 21 miles.

The water was a cold, murky grey, known for its Great White sharks. After 15 hours, Florence was surrounded by dense fog.

At times she lost sight of her mother and her coach, who followed her in a small wooden safety boat. She heard rifle shots as they tried to drive away a persistent shark.

All she could see was fog the colour of slate in every direction. She could not tell if the currents had driven her off course.

Exhaustion and hypothermia dragged at her as she swam stroke after stroke.

After 15 hours and 55 minutes of swimming, she saw the boat, waved, and they pulled her aboard to safety.

Soon the fog cleared and the shoreline appeared less than a mile away. She was heart-broken. She sobbed, “If I only knew it was that close I could have made it!”

Two months later she gave it another try. Again, she was surrounded by thick fog, but this time she was ready for it.

She kept visualising the California shore; it was vivid in her mind’s eye. She swam on and on, refusing all doubts. After 13 hours and 47 minutes she made it.

“Come on, Nina! This is only a two-kilometre swim!” I now challenged myself. I rounded a point of land and there was the bright red of the finish booth only a couple of hundred yards away.

I swam over the line and Bill was on the steps with a towel and a hug. “Well done! My beautiful mermaid,” he whispered in my ear. “I am so proud of you!”

My memories vanished at the sound of this year’s start. “Only 800 metres …” I reassured myself and began to swim. I was the oldest in the 40-59 age group in this event, and I came in eleventh out of 16 competitors.

Bill was again waiting with a warm towel. This time I said to him, “Next year, I will win!”

He laughed and held me tight.

• Nina London is the founder of Mermaid Wellness Centre for Women and a certified Chi Gong and Laughter Yoga teacher. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their bodies and minds. Contact her at www.ninalondon.com and on Instagram: @coachninalondon

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Published October 19, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated October 19, 2023 at 7:28 am)

'Next year I will win’

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