Samoa Events Director, Afoa Seti Afoa, was in Auckland recently to oversee the inaugural New Zealand Ultra-Marathon Swim Awards.
He launched the awards for the first time this year to honour Kiwi swimmers that take on a long distance swim anywhere in the world – this includes the Oceans 7 swims, Cook Strait in NZ, English Channel from England to France, Catalina Channel in California, North Channel from Ireland to Scotland and others.
Apolima Strait swim in Samoa, Upolu to Savai’i featured strongly with eight swimmers receiving NZ Legends Awards.
The Awards was a sell-out and brought together the open water swimming community from around the country. Three pioneers of the Sport from the 1960’s, 70’s and the golden era of the Sport in the 1980’s were honoured with Lifetime Awards. They were Philip Rush, Sandra Blewett and Keith Hancox.
Rush was also the Keynote speaker. He spoke about his many swims around the world. He first crossed Cook Strait from the North Island of NZ to the South Island as a sixteen year old.
The most thrilling story was his three-way crossing of the English Channel in 1987 – that’s England to France, back to England and to France again in one go. He holds the record for the fastest two-way crossing and three-way crossing of the Channel from that swim.
Sandra Blewett was honoured for her many achievements including Cook Strait, Foveaux Strait and multiple crossings of Lake Taupo. Her major feat that no one else has repeated was the swim from Whangarei to Auckland. That swim took 44 hours. Sandra also raised over $3m for charity with her long distance swimming.
Keith Hancox from Masterton attended the awards with his wife Carole. Keith was the second man to swim Cook Strait in 1964 aged 25 years. Now in his late 70’s his feats with Barry Davenport in the 60’s helped pave the way for the growth of the sport amongst Kiwi’s.
Afoa launched the awards to maintain his connections with the NZ swimming community and to honour the silent achievements.
“I wanted the Awards to honour current and past swimmers. This is one sport where someone achieves an amazing goal and swims for hours and even days, gets to the other side gets out and goes home. There is no applause, crowd or medal ceremony,” Afoa said.
“The highlight for me was being in the same room with the community and listening to inspirational Legends Talks from current and past swimmers.”
“It was incredible listening to Philip talk through the psychology of his amazing three-way English Channel crossing and how at the end of the third leg he was asked whether he wanted to do a fourth leg. He didn’t and he regrets it to this day.”
“I was also very happy that eight from Apolima Strait attended the awards and were honoured with the NZ Legends Award.”
The eight were Mike Cochrane (2015), Bronwen Burmester (2016), Christina Harris (2017), Jacques de Reuck, Bronwyn Copeland, Su Scott, Andrew Cave and Alice Sagar all of 2018.
Among other awards was Caitlin O’Reilly of Auckland. She is the youngest female and youngest NZer to swim Cook Strait aged 12yrs in 2017. Chloe Harris of Christchurch was honoured for the NZ Triple Crown of Swimming that includes Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island to the Bluff, Cook Strait and the 40.2km Lake Taupo Swim.
The Awards will be held every two years and will be shared around the country.