Not drowning, training for the Cole Classic

WHITE water surrounded me as I came to grips with what was happening. I was drowning. My arms flailed as my head frantically moved from side to side. There is no way to get out of this, I thought, panicking. Then a hairy arm reached down and pulled me up above the waves. It was a volunteer lifesaver monitoring swimmers as they swam into the beach.

''Do you really want me to rescue you and not finish the race?'' he gruffly asked as I coughed and spluttered, holding onto his small inflatable raft. I weakly shook my head, thanked him and made my way into shore.

And that day my love for ocean swimming began.

Sunday's two-kilometre The Sydney Morning Herald Cole Classic marks my 11th competition. ''I could never do that,'' friends say.

But ocean swimming is a survival contest. If you stop swimming, you will drown. Well, that's what I tell myself. So I never stop.

In 1982 the founder of the Cole Classic, Graham Cole, wrote: ''The event is not a race but a challenge to all persons to stretch themselves in body and mind.''

''Challenge'' may be applicable to today's race. Organisers say the swell is expected to be ''quite severe''.* .

Apart from wild seas, there are three common concerns many share about ocean swimming:

Being ''swum over''. Yes, I have been swum over. It's not pleasant.

Sharks. To make sure I never get eaten by a shark I always try and have at least two swimmers to my left and two to my right. A friend pointed out that sharks swim up, not from the side. I have ignored him and still swim with my entourage. Also, it would have to be a pretty brave shark to try and eat more than 3750 swimmers.

Fitness. The first ocean swim I did, I had been out the night before, had not swum in a year, nearly drowned and had dodgy goggles. I came 448th out of 500 swimmers. My point: your excuse is lame.

Today I'm doing the Cole Classic with my dad. He's a super fish. When I was young, my family joined the local swimming club. My dad soon became everyone's hero. ''Did you beat Gordon Whyte?'' was the perennial question asked every Saturday afternoon.I have never beaten him.

But that's one of the great things about ocean swimming. Not that your dad can beat you, but it doesn't matter what age, size or gender you are, you're all out there, battling the ocean. Together.

You also get water and fruit. This is one of the only things that keeps me going. When you're out of the water and onto your third banana you pat each other on the back, admire everyone's physical prowess then, in your cossies and dripping wet, you collapse.

*If conditions are too rough, the course may be changed or the swim cancelled. The call will be made at 6am on Sunday. Keep an eye on your email, news reports or coleclassic.com.au.

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