A few years ago, local swimmer Kim Bryan was challenged by her friend Katie Lovis to swim the Rottnest Channel Swim in Australia.
That was the beginning of a hushed journey to live up to her agreement.
Quietly, Bryan began saving up for the trip to Australia, and last year, she began clocking miles in the local pool, and travelling out of town in the winter to access other pools. The duo signed up for the open water swim, and were waitlisted among many others who had done the same. She was happily surprised when she received notice that her and Lovis would be participating in this year’s Rottnest Channel Swim, which took place at the end of February.
“Last summer, I started swimming a lot more seriously, swimming at our local pool here in the summer, trying to get as many workouts as I could,” Bryan said about the journey. “We found out that we got off the waitlist in December, so I had, surprise, two months to try and get my mileage up.”
When training for the event, swimmers are supposed to try to get their mileage up to 20 kilometres per week, which can be difficult in the winter months in Golden. Bryan travelled to pools in other communities to get herself in the best shape possible for the long distance swim.
The 19.7 kilometre open water swim took Bryan, Lovis, and around 2,600 other swimmers from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island in Western Australia. As tough as the swim was, organizing all of the logistics also proved to be a challenge, but Bryan says their support team was nothing short of amazing. On the day of the event, the competitors are required to have a boat with them for when they switch off and need breaks, and kayakers who guide them in the right direction. Altogether, there were eight people on the team, including Bryan and Lovis.
“The day went off pretty much without a hitch, which is awesome because there’s so many variables,” Bryan said, who began the first leg of the swim by arriving at the beach at 5 a.m. “You have to meet up with your paddlers before you meet the boat.”
That first swim means she had to make it a kilometre and a half within 20 minutes, or else they would be disqualified. The stakes were high, but Bryan had prepared herself, and the team continued the rest of the way together.
Another variable that can work against the swimmers is the weather. Western Australia is fondly known as WA, which stands for “windy always” to locals. The wind can create choppy water, but by “stroke of luck” Bryan says there was no wind on the day of the race. If the weather becomes overcast, the race can continue, but it is thought to bring out sharks into the area. The fear of sharks was definitely in the back of Bryan’s mind, but she says she had to work through it to check the race off her bucket list.
“If you let your fear take over, then you’re not going to be able to do the big achievements in life,” she said.
Before the race even began, Bryan found herself standing on the beach, cold sand at her feet, watching the sun rise with thousands of other competitors. Heading off into the water, the swim came naturally to the master swimmer.
“The actual swim went super well. It was easier than I thought it would be,” Bryan said. “Don’t get me wrong, I was still very tired and my shoulder hurt, and by the end I thought I could sleep standing up.”
The 19.7-kilometre race took Bryan and Lovis six hours and 40 minutes to get across the channel. Above the surface, the chaos of 2,600 competitors and their support teams roared above the waves. Below, a peaceful seascape granted some Zen.
“You go to breathe, and you just see tons of boats and kayaks and people swimming. Loads of action on top of the water. But below the surface was so peaceful,” Bryan said. “You can see the bottom the whole time pretty much… You could see the stingrays along the bottom.”
Bryan shared the experience with her swimming partner Lovis, who is from Australia, and lives there now. The two met while Lovis was living in Golden. She came to work for a winter season at the ski hill, and ended up staying for a while. The two became really good friends. Lovis is primarily a runner, but Bryan describes her as a really “fit human who loves a good challenge, and loves to do new things.”
The experience they shared swimming across the Rottnest Channel will stick with them for a lifetime. Bryan encourages everyone to push themselves and achieve the things they want to in life.
“To people, I would just say ‘yeah, go for it.’ Whatever they want to do, whatever they’re doing is fun and they love doing it. I love to swim, so for me to do a race like that, it just makes sense,” Bryan said. “If someone wants to do a race and challenge themselves in a physical endeavour, challenge themselves in something they love doing, and just go for it.”
And, that’s what Bryan plans to keep on doing. Now, she has a little bit of competitive blood in her system, and she has already signed up for a seven-kilometre open water swim at Rattlesnake Island, and the Golden Ultra cross country running race.