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‘Just keep swimming’

Lyall Evans doesn’t rate himself as a swimmer.

The statistics from his performance in the Swim The Distance challenge soundly dispute that.

After losing 14 kilograms, turning 60, going “a bit greyer” and clocking up more than 404 kilometres, the retired accountant, with two artificial hips, was crowned top individual performer in the 2018 edition of the challenge that culminated in a prize-giving at Peppers Beachfront Bar and Cafe on Sunday.

Swim the Distance required participants to swim, walk, or both, the 45.5-kilometre distance from Gisborne to Mahia via laps at the Olympic Pool. They had eight weeks to do it — an average of 5.7km a week.

Of the 222 people who took on the challenge, 91 completed it.

In a class of his own was Lyall Evans, a former Wainui surf lifesaver, who started the challenge conservatively then ramped it up considerably in the second half to reach a staggering 404.2km — 134km more than the next-best individual.

Over September, he totalled 266km, including three weeks of more than 70km.

Fourteen of those days featured 10km or more stints, including a five-hour session in which he did over 16km.

In one four-day stretch alone, he fell just 700m short of reaching Mahia.

Wearing fins and using a pool buoy, Lyall swam the distance eight times and was just shy of a ninth — a total of 8084 laps of the pool.

His target changed, or as he put it, “evolved” as he progressed.

When he reached 300, it lifted to 324. When he got to 364 (eight times to Mahia), 400 came into the picture.

“They key is not to stop, to keep going,” he said. “You have good and bad patches but you need to work through these.”

There were times when he thought he had pulled muscles in his arms and one instance of a hypothermia scare after problems with the pool’s heating.

But a wetsuit and good old Rawleigh’s Ointment overcame those issues.

He passed another milestone during the challenge — his 60th birthday.

He also lost a truckload of weight, dropping from 82 to 68kg.

“People were really worried about me. They thought I was sick. Jenny Craig has nothing on Swim to Mahia.”

As well as the obvious sense of achievement, Lyall said he learned a lot about himself.

“There were times I thought I was going to fall apart but I pulled myself together.”

The highlight, however, was not about him.

In spending so much time at the pool, he got to meet a lot of people and watch them gain confidence and improve.

“To see non-swimmers come to the pool and make such huge progress was fantastic.”

As to next year . . . “I’ll think about it. I’m not sure if my family will let me.”

Lyall’s distance was extra special but there were other outstanding performances.

Brigitte Scammell was second overall individual on 270.2km, Comet swimmer Holly Fisher third on 266.5km, last year’s winner Tess McCormick fourth on 250km and Treva Rice fifth on 240km.

Other participants to crack the 100km were Treva’s wife and Brigitte’s sister Heidi (100), Viki Lee-Taylor (100), Hine Akuhata-Brown (100.9), Karen Newman (106.95), Gus Logan (128), Steve Webb (137.4), Damon Meade (151), Jamie Joblin (200.5), Katherine Armstrong (230) and Emma Niven (232.1)

Like Lyall, the top team were on another level.

KK Nuts, led by the efforts of Tess, Treva, Katherine, Viki and Heidi, averaged 120.12km, with Gisborne Herald second on 41.35km and Huringa Pai third on 38.48km.

At the prizegiving, organiser Sue Kauika thanked all those who took part, those who helped make it another successful event and the sponsors who contributed generously.

The major spot prize of a $500 Harvey Norman voucher was won by Emma Carlyle, who completed this year’s challenge after not making it to Mahia at her two previous attempts.

When things got tough, she took her inspiration from a quote by Dory in the animated movie Finding Nemo . . . “Just keep swimming.”

Gisborne to Mahia . . . lap by lap by lapby Chris Taewa

“Phelps. M Phelps.”

The young pool lifeguard manning the Swim the Distance record book didn’t get the joke after asking me my name.

I’d just finished my first session and was feeling a little Olympian-like.

When the lightbulb came on, he smiled and nodded his head, resisting the urge to say “yeeaaaah….nah!”

Hilarious (I thought). Ridiculous (he thought). And eight weeks later it was another “ous” as I reached Mahia via 910 laps of the Olympic racing pool . . . moment-ous.

I symbolically walked out of the ocean and on to golden Mahia sands at around 3.30pm on September 30 — the very last day of the Olympic Pool-Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti-run challenge.

I lifted my arms in lonely jubilation.

There was no finish line. No cheering fans lining poolside. No commentator overzealously calling me home.

Just the same wall I had touched time after time after time. The same pool-bottom black line I had stared at lap after lap after lap. The same aroma of eau de chlorine I had tried to scrub off shower after shower after shower.

But this time was different. This time it was mixed with the metaphorically- sweet smell of success.

I’d done it. Knocked off the bastard. Taken one giant leap for my kind.

Was it as satisfying as doing the Eastern League division 2 football league/cup double with the Irish Rover Thistle 26ers side in 2003?

Was it up there with the elation of completing my first and only marathon?

Was it comparable to breaking par many rounds ago on the Povety Bay golf course?


I can kick a football with a semblance of accuracy.

I trained long and hard and got pretty good at running, just missing the 3½ hour mark in the Rotorua Marathon.

In my day, I was a low-ish single-figure-handicapped golfer good enough to represent Poverty Bay-East Coast.

But when it came to swimming, I have always been what you could ironically call a fish out of water.

I was no water baby. At Elgin primary school swimming lessons, there were three grades. I was in “C”.

The ocean only enticed me up to the waist. If I’d got sucked out by a rip, my chance of survival was closer to “toast” than “fighting”.

So I took on swimming to Mahia to prove something to myself. I decided to push open the door marked comfort zone, step outside, lock it behind me and toss the key overboard.

At the start I could barely swim one lap before having to walk.

By the end it was six.

Along the way I became part of a usually afternoon crew who quietly acknowledged each other in a common cause. A nod. A gidday. A quick chat before leaping into what we hoped was a 27-degrees-plus pool.

Sometimes, with an ice-cream headache-like shock factor, it wasn’t.

And I won’t elaborate on the “Code Brown” incident that closed the pool one Sunday.

As I chewed through the k’s, albeit with a style that would have had M Phelps shuddering, it became a situation of when rather than if I’d get there.

Each Wednesday, the progress of all swimmers was updated and displayed on the Olympic Pool noticeboard.

Most of us knew our personal distance covered. It was inspiring to see the big totals.

As was the sight of all sorts of people, of all shapes and sizes, of varying skills and myriad of styles churning through the water day after day . . . from a kuia plodding along by foot in the “slow lane” to a Comet Swimming Club young gun knocking off laps like falling dominos.

Less than half of those who took on the challenge didn’t make it.

They weren’t failures.

Those who gave it a good go and didn’t get there should not look at how much they fell short but how far they got.

And, of course, there’s always next year.

GET SWIMMING!: Lyall Evans swam a record 404kms in last year’s Midway to Mahia swim. That’s like swimming from Midway to Mahia almost nine times. Mr Evans said he was inspired by the many swimmers and non-swimmers who got involved last year. Sport Gisborne are encouraging people to register for this year’s event. Picture by Paul Rickard
Others to record big numbers included (from left): Jamie Joblin, Holly Fisher, Brigitte Scammell, Viki-Lee Taylor and Treva Rice. Picture supplied