Active Blu - Open Water Venue.

Active Blu - Open Water Venue.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Meeting Sue


Sue Oldham – Getting better with age.


"My advice to other swimmers, or non swimmers, is don’t put off doing things, life goes by so quickly and one never knows what will be around the corner so make the most of this time, it can never be retrieved”.
(Sue, Oldham, 2013)

An inspiration to many wishing to challenge themselves this year.

Sue is an inspirational, modest Character, having only started swimming in her 40`s, She is best known as the oldest women to swim across the English Channel. At the age of 65 Sue entered the record books finishing her swim in 17 hours 11 mins. However the list of records, stories and amazing accomplishments is endless.
Based in Perth Australia, I had a rare opportunity to catch up with Sue and ask her a few questions regarding her swimming back ground, who inspired her and her greatest Challenges to date.

Emma:  “Please tell me about how and when you got into swimming”?

Sue: “About 20 years ago a friend suggested I join a Masters Swimming Club as I was looking for some sporting activity but one that would fit in with a job that, for several months of the year, took me interstate every couple of weeks”.

“I had never had a swimming lesson in my life and to be truthful not swum in a pool either.  I remember my first training session where I would manage to swim 25 meters and then have to get my breath back before I could swim back to the blocks!!  But I persevered and eventually became an adequate swimmer.  Through that club I meet my friend Les Stewart who had swum in the 1956 Rottnest Channel swim as a 20 year old, without a cap, goggles and a support boat with a dodgy engine, with the crew eventually resorting to oars.  Les suggested I join him, his son and another friend in a four man relay swim to Rottnest and so that was the beginning of my ocean water swimming passion”.

Emma: What or who inspired you to take up Marathon swimming, why the English Channel?

Sue: “Once I had done a couple of Rotto team swims and then two duo swims with Les I thought I would have a go at a solo crossing.  I didn’t know much about training sessions in those days and although I swam in the ocean every day it was only for about 2kms at a time.  But I had some very good and experienced friends with great advice.

Emma and Sue - Jan 2013
After a couple of solo crossings I knew I needed to do more training and eventually in 2003 found coach Pauline Pratt.  Pauline had coached the first WA man Mark Crowther to swim the English Channel and in 2005 she took her first junior six man relay team across.  

She encouraged a few masters swimmers to consider a relay crossing for 2006 and I was one of the lucky ones.  During the year my friend Selwyn Jellie asked me to join him in the extra sessions as he thought he would tackle a solo crossing.  I readily agreed and after a couple of weeks asked Pauline if she thought I would be good enough to do a solo crossing myself.  She told me to be at the training session that night, so I took that as a 'yes'”!

Emma: “When swimming the English Channel can you describe what your most prominent thoughts, Highs and Lows of the swim”?

Sue “I feel I was very fortunate as on my first solo crossing in 2006 we had swum a six man relay crossing a month before and not only had the encouragement and support of my team mates but of Pauline and our skipper Eddie Spelling. 

Team mate Tony Parbery was also training for a solo crossing but unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity that year but was successful in 2008.  Selwyn insisted he would be a part of my support despite having only completed his crossing two days earlier.  He also interrupted his holiday in 2010 to be on the boat and plans to come again for my 2014 crossing.

Like I said I am lucky with good friends.  During the swim I followed Pauline's instructions, think about family, friends and all the Barracuda swimmers who have encouraged me and swum with me during training sessions.  

Training for a solo crossing is an 12 - 18 month plan and all extra activities go on hold, such as a social life, because the demands are to be as fit and focused as possible.  So during the swim I would consciously think of all these special people and I enjoy long distance swimming, the further I swim the better I got.

In 2010 for the first six hours all I could think of is that I am totally mad, what on earth made me think I wanted to go through all this again but once I settled down and found my rhythm it became better.

I guess like most swimmers towards the end I would think I saw those rocks and headland: why is this taking me so long but eventually I made it and when I walked up to the beach it was the most unbelievable feeling and it still makes me emotional when I think about it.

It was the same feeling when I first swam the Rottnest Channel crossing.  I am blessed that l have the ability to dig in and never give up (bloody minded one could say), at the time of a swim, I am strong, fit and well prepared & don’t feel the cold”.

Emma:  “Since being involved within the sport, what are your proudest moments and why”?

Sue: “Proudest moments: I am so pleased with being successful & not letting anyone down.  Although I haven’t had any sponsors, I have had the support of family and friends, my coach Pauline has spent hours making sure I am ready and I have a great skipper in Eddie Spelling.”  

Also I just remembered I have world records”:

·         A member of the oldest 6 man relay team in the world to swim the channel in 2006.
·         Oldest woman to swim solo in 2006, regained that title in 2010.      
·         Member of the oldest 4 man relay team in 2012 - swimming with the oldest person, Roger Allsopp which was a lot of fun and a great privilege.


Emma: “What would your advice be to anyone thinking about taking up marathon swimming”?

Sue: “My suggestions are join a club, it is very difficult to maintain the discipline necessary to maintain the training. Also get an experienced coach who understands marathon swimming.  Be prepared to put your whole focus into the training, your life depends upon it”.

Emma:  What next. Do you have any other aspirations”?

Sue: “What next: well keep healthy and fit and maybe do another English channel swim in 2016.  Everything depends upon health and finances.  But I can dream and wish I had started when I was younger but I guess I haven’t done too badly considering I didn’t start swimming until in my mid 40's”. 

Emma: “Anything else you would like to talk about to inspire, educate or advice our readers”?

Sue: “My advice to other swimmers, or non swimmers, is don’t put off doing things, life goes by so quickly and one never knows what will be around the corner so make the most of this time, it can never be retrieved”.


Thank you Sue your words have been truly inspiring. 




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