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Record breaking Cook Strait crossing

14 Mar 2017 09:37 am

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Caitlin O’Reilly takes it one stroke at a time across Cook Strait. Inset, Caitlin with coach John Gatfield the day after her epic swim.
There has been no shortage of media attention since Caitlin O’Reilly of Waitoki became the youngest female to swim across Cook Strait.

However, we still had questions for Caitlin, who turns 13 this week, when we met her at Northern Arena recently.
Top of the list was what motivated her, at such a young age, to take on the mammoth swim, which she achieved on February 24 in a time of 7hrs 19mins 15secs.

It is a goal she set for herself and began working towards just 10 months ago. Her Coast Swim Club coach, John Gatfield, previously held the record after swimming the Strait when he was 13. He says most of his squad know about that and it came up at goal setting meetings. “Caitlin is the only one who put up her hand to take it on,” he says. “We help all our swimmers believe in themselves so they can achieve big goals.”

Training consisted of regular sprint sessions with Coast Swim Club, as well as ocean swims.

Caitlin says that all she remembers clearly of her record breaking swim is the beginning and the end – touching a rock at Ohau Point near Makara in Wellington then heading out to sea, followed by touching a rock north of Perano Head in the Marlborough Sounds some seven hours later, then swimming to the support boat.

The water was cold and choppy and once the sun went down she needed all her mental toughness to keep going. Along the way she was stung repeatedly by jellyfish.

“I told myself I had to keep going. I had wanted to do it for ages,” she says. “The water was about 19°C and I had to keep my speed up so I didn’t get cold. I took it one stroke at a time.”

Recovery time was short: the week after swimming the Strait, Caitlin took part in the Oceans 17 surf lifesaving competition with her Red Beach Surf Club teammates, getting into the swimming finals.

Caitlin says she has no firm goals as yet, but will keep swimming competitively and definitely do more ocean swimming.

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