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The start of something extraordinary

Coast swimmer’s record setting Cook Strait swim

Last Friday Coast swimmer Caitlin O’Reilly became the youngest female to complete the Cook Strait swim at the age of 12.

Caitlin took seven hours and 19 minutes to complete the crossing which started at Ohau Point, Wellington and finished at Perano Head, Marlborough.

Caitlin’s coach, John Gatfield, has also completed the Cook Strait swim and up until last week he was the youngest New Zealander to have completed it at the age of 13 in 2004.

Check out the below Q&A with Caitlin and John about their Cook Strait journey.

Q: Caitlin - What made you want to do the Cook Strait swim?

I wanted an amazing challenge. My coach John Gatfield did it when he was 13 and I thought if he can do it so can I.

Q: John - When the idea about the Cook Strait swim came up for Caitlin, what was your initial reaction?

Excitement, I love when my swimmers come to be with big goals and dreams, no matter how difficult they may seem. I think I gave her a high five and said let’s do it!

Q: Caitlin - What were some of the challenges you faced in the swim and how did you overcome them?

One of the challenges I faced was swimming in the dark. I had never swum in the dark before and as I realised I was not going to make it before sunset I got really scared. I overcame it by completely focussing on John and Phil Rush and listening to them. I was also scared of sharks so I closed my eyes when I looked down. Luckily I didn’t see any fish at all but when I took my togs off at the end of the swim they were full of jellyfish.

Q: John - What was the training routine like to get ready for the swim?

Our practise regime didn’t fall too far outside of our norm. Most sessions were anywhere between 3.5km to 5km in distance, with one longer per week where we would practise feeding and swimming for half hour blocks. It was important to us to maintain her speed in this time as well, as Caitlin had big goals and times in mind for the Junior Festival in which she was also very successful.

Q: John - Having completed the Cook Strait swim yourself what was some of your advice for Caitlin before her swim?

I kept it pretty simple for Caitlin, our approach was that it was always going to be like any other training swim, low pressure, getting the work done. Attacking it half an hour at a time was the best way to break the swim down into manageable chunks.

Q: Caitlin - What were one or two things from the swim that you really enjoyed?

I really enjoyed the second hour of the swim because in the first hour the waveswere choppy. The best moment was the last two minutes as I was finishing and I got really excited realising that I had made it.

Q: John - What was your best moment from the swim?

Without doubt the moment she finished the swim, it’s hard to explain the feeling, as the swim has so many ups and downs and you don’t really realise the magnitude of the swim until you’re on the Strait watching it being swum. It was an awesome feeling watching her achieve her goal, especially one of that size. I’m 100% sure the force was with her!

Q4: Caitlin - What was the first thing you did after you completed the swim?

After I finished I couldn’t get into the IRB fast enough. John and Phil Rush pulled me in to the boat and put a towel around my shoulders. They then took me back to the launch and my Mum and Nana wrapped me in warm clothes because I was quite cold and shaking. I lay down and went straight to sleep because we had over an hour in the boat to get back to the Mana Boat Club.

Q: Caitlin - Do you have plans/goals for anymore marathon swims?

I am really looking forward to having fun at the King of the Bays swim in April and doing another 17.5km Epic Swim in Taupo next year. Perhaps I might try the NZ Open Water Champs. My Mum and Dad say I need to get a job first before I try the English Channel!

Q: John - What are your hopes for Caitlin’s swimming future?

I believe Caitlin can achieve anything she sets her mind to in this sport. She is a very quiet and humble achiever and knows exactly what she needs to do in practise to get the outcome she is after. Let’s just say the force is strong with this one.

Q: Caitlin - What is it you enjoy about swimming, pool or open water?

I love nothing more than to swim. I would rather be training for 6 hours and going to school for 1 ½ hours. I enjoy both pool and ocean swimming but I like to have some fun, try new things and mix it up. It’s about having dreams and believing in myself.

Q: Caitlin - How long have you been swimming for? Did you always enjoy swimming in the open water?

My first proper ocean swim race was King of the Bays in 2016 from Milford to Takapuna. Since then I have been hooked. I have been swimming at Northern Arena since I was 9 but had swimming lessons since I was 3 or 4.

Q: John - How long have you been coaching Caitlin for?

I have been coaching Caitlin for the past three years, taking her to her first Junior national meet when she was 10, we are now heading to her first New Zealand Age Group Championships in just a few weeks. Plenty of time left yet on our journey :P

Q: Caitlin & John - Anything else?

Caitlin - I would like to thank Phil Rush and his team for organising the swim and believing in me. To my coach John Gatfield thank you for never giving up on me, I could have never done it without you. I am so lucky to have such a great coach.  Thank you also to Northern Arena for sponsoring me.