Rebecca Hollingsworth is a Wellington-based ocean swimmer who recently swam Cook Strait. She shares here how she got into swimming long distances.
Lake Apache in Arizona, USA.
Apache Lake (AZ., USA)
Swim date: 26 April 2019
Official swim distance: 22.8 km
Swim time: 6hrs 11mins 8secs
Event / Observer: SCAR Swim
Swim date: 27 January 2020
Official distance: 40.2 km
Swim time: 14hrs 9mins 3secs
Observer: Philip Rush, Mike Cochrane
Swim date: 25 March 2021
Official distance: 23 km
Swim time: 12hrs 13mins
Observer: Philip Rush
My swimming story starts as a tot in my grandparents’ backyard swimming pool in Westport. I’ve always loved the sport but forgot that for a while when I gave up at the old age of 14 or 15 years. I nearly rediscovered swimming when I worked as a swimming teacher at university. But it wasn’t until I left uni and had a friend encourage me into the water that I found ocean swimming.
How did I go from there to swimming Cook Strait?
I blame all the inspiring swimmers who have crossed my path. Kerri, my friend and colleague who got me into a wetsuit and introduced me to the ocean swim series. The awesome ocean swimmers who I met at the Samoa Swim Series in 2014. The non-wetsuiters who trapped me in a car with them from Paihia to Auckland. And Mike who in 2015 swam a really long way from Rottnest Island to Perth in Australia...
Rottnest in 2016 was my first big ‘ultra’ swim - a 20km channel swim. After Mike had done it, I was determined to do the swim myself. One advantage of this plan was that I was able to connect with Mike’s skipper (Rottnest can be a headache without knowing someone with a boat). That swim took me six and half hours and had its fair share of stingers. But I decided that I couldn’t moan about the jellyfish when I was surrounded by hundreds of Australians swimming in the same piece of water! I also banished any thoughts about sharks.
Normally, a big swim gives you the desire to do even longer swims. It’s a really addictive sport! But I had to be patient when I decided to move to the other side of the world. Like many young kiwis, Wellington was feeling a bit small and I had itchy feet.
While I didn’t have the ocean, swimming became really important to me in London. It went beyond something that I enjoyed doing and became something that helped me to feel normal. London is a hard place to find your feet and my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer back in New Zealand so it ended up being a tough time for me.
Rebecca and Breanna on the home stretch at Lake Taupō
My time in London ended up being shorter than expected but I did manage to get a couple of iconic swims with the British Long Distance Swimming Association - Torbay (13km) and Lake Windermere (17km). I actually won the Windermere swim! I was shivering a bit with the cold air temp beforehand, and I think the Brits thought I wouldn’t last. But I proved them wrong and was 15 mins ahead of the first male finisher.
When I got back to New Zealand, I still had a bit of the travel bug and decided to plan an overseas swimming challenge. A common theme of this story… I had met a couple of inspiring swimmers who had been to Arizona to do this swim challenge where you swim four lakes over four days - the SCAR swim. It’s about 60km of swimming. I had a friend join me on the kayak and we had a great time. Thankfully I didn’t see the rattlesnake on Apache Lake.
My training for SCAR in Wellington had been really special. I almost never trained alone and had a great network of equally crazy swimmers. One of the crazy Wellington swimmers was Breanna who swam Cook Strait that season. Even before I’d swum SCAR we started to talk about Lake Taupo. We had just seen Mike and Alice do a tandem across the width of Lake Taupo and I think this planted the seed that maybe we should do a tandem. (Copying Mike… another common theme of this story). A tandem also seemed a lot more financially doable as we were both broke. Bre was heading off to uni and I had just sunk my savings into a house deposit.
Swimming into the night in Cook Strait
Taupo was an awesome swim! We had a great crew and the two of us swam well together. But it wasn’t an easy swim. I think we got a good 7 or 8 hours of lake chop before the lake flattened off. But that just made it all the more satisfying when we walked out of the water together after 14 hours in the water.
With a bit of experience now under my belt and a pandemic which closed our borders to international swimmers, I found myself planning to swim Cook Strait in 2021. I have a blog which tells my account of that swim - it’s not short! I decided to try for another tandem swim with another incredibly inspiring swimmer, Corrina. And when we eventually got our day in the Strait, she threw nearly everything at us (or so it seemed) - strong tides, swells, wind and chop, dolphins (pleasant surprise), hypothermia (Corrina), and night swimming.
And that’s how I swam Cook Strait.
I’m incredibly grateful for all the inspiration. In turn I hope that others are inspired by my swims. Swimming is such an important part of who I am that I won’t be giving it up again any time soon. If I ever get to 90 years old I want to still be swimming.