FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Olivia Cullen's swimming career has already come full circle.
Like most Aussie kids, Olivia grew up enjoying the surf before her swimming potential emerged in the pool.
Developing under head coach Mark Matthews at the St Patrick's Swim Club and then Derek Taylor at Launceston Aquatic, she was selected in three state teams, won a number of state titles and was named an age group swimmer of the year.
But she said her background at the beach, combined with endurance learned in the pool, made open water swimming a natural progression.
``It is tough and challenging, but I would encourage others to venture out into the open water arena,'' she said.
``There is something refreshing and unique about swimming in the surf and not having to follow the same black line all the time.''
Breaking the ice with a 1km pier swim at Bridport and 2km at Port Sorell, Olivia returned a year later to claim the junior female section at Port Sorell and then won her age group in the 5km state championships at Seven Mile Beach in a time that qualified her for the national open water championships.
The sole Northern representative at Eastern Beach, Geelong, Olivia said it was ``a wonderful experience''.
``They swum the 14 and 15 year old girls together which resulted in about 125 swimmers heading off at the same time.
The first 2km was very tough as arm and legs were being thrown everywhere as swimmers literally battled for position in the water.
``With so many swimmers on the water, finding clear water and an efficient stroke tempo was very challenging. What made things worse was the presence of a high number of jellyfish in the water, and about half a dozen girls had to be pulled out due to jellyfish stings.''
Olivia finished 24th out of 61 swimmers in her age group and was very pleased with her performance, particularly given her lack of experience. This opportunity has given her the motivation to have another crack next year where she hopes to improve her ranking.
While Olivia was unable to compete in the 2km Pub to Club in Devonport on Sunday, she is looking to ahead to Bicheno in April to compete in the Shane Gould-supported 5km Devil of a Swim.