Category Archives: Swimming

Two more days of swimming in Miami

Sunday

Me and Daniel Wu

The mornings are quiet here. The clean up crews have been out and everything is looking pristine. I’ve arranged to ride out with Donna and Anna this morning and walk the seven blocks to where their car is parked. As I go a young black guy asks where I got the Out Games T-shirt. He’s a Baskekball player, one of the casualties of the cancellations.  I explain that the guys at the swimming pool were giving them away free. I also learn that the Basketball teams have managed to organise themselves into a tournament. Human resourcefulness is great isn’t it?

At the pool, competition is underway, and I’m in time for my 100m backstroke. This time I have three others to beat and so feel a bit more legitimate. It’s great to meet up with familiar faces from IGLA last year in Edmonton and even some from The Out Games in Antwerp four years ago. There’s a contingent from Australia (Wet Ones & Glamourheads) who I recognise from Proud To Play in Auckland in 2016 and in 2015 they also came to Wellington for the annual TAMS/Different Strokes challenge. Somehow I’m feeling part of a global community. Marcel, who briefly trained with TAMS in

Donna and Anna din the same race.

Auckland is here doing all the hard events. Donna and Anna get to swim in the same heat and have to be cheered on for Out to Swim. They drop me at the nearby metro station as, I’ve discovered that there is a public transport system here and I’m keen to check it out.  There’s no one around but up on the platform, I can see a few passengers waiting. As I’m looking for a place to buy tickets, a security guard comes over and asks what sort of ticket I want. ‘Just a single into the city’.  He swipes his card and lets me in. I’m a bit surprised and briefly wonder if I have to swipe out at the other end. I’ve just missed a train, but the wait for another is not long and the journey takes only ten minutes. There is a problem at the City Centre end as I do have to swipe out and end up following a family with a push chair through one of those wide gates. The wait for a 120 but to Miami Beach is long but only costs $2.25. There’s no change given so fortunately I have the right money to drop into the slots. After another salad for lunch and a snooze, it’s time to try the

Festive Bling

beach, which looked lovely on Friday. Even in the late afternoon, it’s packed, mostly with African Americans sun bathing and standing in the sea. I’ve come out with the bare minimum and leave a small pile on the white sand; Jandals, tee shirt, mini towel, hotel room key and hat.  The water is warm and choppy – it’s shallow and I have to go beyond the waders to swim. Palm Beach on Waiheke Island at 22 degrees C, still gets my vote. There is, however, no need to dry off in this heat; it’s just strange wearing a bathing

South Beach after the festival

costume/togs on a beach.  It’s back to the hotel to shower before setting out on foot to check out The Gaythering, a gay hotel/bar here. It’s a long trudge in the late afternoon heat, so the air conditioned bar is a relief. I’m startled to find it full of Australians in their distinctive green sports shirts. I sidle around to the other side of the bar, put my dollar down and order a beer. There are a few locals next to me, but on one is talking, so I move to on of the older Australians who turns out to be the referee for the Field Hockey team. They are also casualties of the cancellation but along with the Netherlanders (2 teams) and the British, have organised their own competition with the help of a local sports ground. He’s from Sydney and quickly introduces me to a much younger guy, Tim, who turns out to be his partner and a swimmer. I suggest he joins Wet Ones the Sydney swimming club. Tim seems semi interested in that. So here is another example of teams organising themselves, with the help of the City of Miami. Who needs the World Out Games?  When I try to pay my bar bill, this turns out to be on the house as it is a reception for the Hockey guys – time to leave and make my way South.  A free

Trollybus

trolley bus appears and is going my way. A quick google of Miami Beach trolley busses reveals the route. Conflicted between checking facebook likes and comments and looking at the suburban scene, I miss my stop and end up on 6th Street and have to walk back to 10th. A Tagliatelli Carbonara leaves me feeling heavy and I wake at 2 am to silence – it’s Sunday night – and now I can’t sleep.

 

Monday

It’s still a holiday so traffic should be OK.  I’ve arranged to share an Uber with Tristan and another guy from Wet Ones, Sydney. It’s my big day with three races, starting with the 800m freestyle The Carbonara lingers until after the warm up but it’s OK. We all have to arrange our own flip board operators to count up or down the lengths. At this pool it’s 32 lengths so there’s enough to think about without counting them. One of the Australians is doing the first heat and is able to turn around to pool one and count for me.  I then have to count for Tristan, who likes to be counted down from 32. All goes well until we get to 9 and I can’t work out how to get a blank slate. I miss 9 and offer 17 with my hand over the 1 until I work it out. Luckily I’ve not miscounted. An hour later I’m doing the 200 Back and have to report that the new jammers made the race very comfortable. Perhaps I could have gone faster, but the guy with no times in the next lane shakes my hand – I’ve still no idea who won.

The Golden Girls from OUt to Swim

Later, I find out I have won and can now rest up for a while and watch Daniel do his Medley and support Anna and Donna in their 100m Freestyle. The guy with not times is in the next lane again for the 100m freestyle and I have a feeling that he’s going to be faster, and he is, leaving me in second place. I warm down, change and walk down to Coconut Grove for a decent lunch. Rob Wintermute texts and joins me. We both agree that this might be the end of the Out Games, although apparently the board are talking about Rio in four years time. ‘Rio?’ I say, ’that’s madness. They only just got through the Olympics.’

The London Orcas are playing their final against Boston in the recreational league of Water Polo. Boston is very good and the Orcas end up with Silver. Now it’s a bit of a wait for the Pink Flamingo. This is an opportunity for teams to put in a devised piece of entertainment around and in the pool. While we wait, I chat to Mark who does Gay Rodeo and was at Edmonton. He was planning to come to the World Masters in Auckland, but did his knee in at the Rodeo. At 54, I tell him, it’s time he retired from that.

The 6 Pink Flamingo acts are presented by an outrageous, but elegant drag queen and range from embarrassing to slick. Paris Aquatique win first prize and the whole proceedings

 

Scottish Rites Temple

I get a lift to the dinner with Mark. We lose our way there and are still early at the Scottish Rites Temple. We walk along the riverside with some of the old guys from the competition.  This is the 30th anniversary if IGLA and there are photographs flashing up on the screen while we have our starters. It’s downstairs for a sit down main course of Paella and speeches.  Some of the original guys from the very first IGLA meet are there and those that attended the first four make up a tidy group. It’s very moving to think that this organisation has spread from California to global in that time. There aren’t that many from Europe this year, but there’s no excuse next year with IGLA supporting the Gay Games in Paris.

Ocean Drive, South Beach

IGLA and Nadadores take over from The World Out Games

Barricades on Ocean Drive

Eating is essential to get though races, so calculating that breakfast doesn’t start until 7am and the competition commences at 9pm, I need to warm up around 8.30 in order to sus out the competition pool. Roads around the hotel are blocked off for the Hip Hop festival/Memorial weekend, so getting an Uber seems difficult as this hotel is cut off. In the end, after a hastily eaten breakfast, I organise a private taxi for 7.30 via the hotel and I’m taken down to the end of the block by one of the staff and wait for a big black 4×4 to glide up and collect me. Of course it’s expensive but I get to the Ransome Everglades School by 8 am, in time to check in and check out the pool. This is a very posh school in the Coconut Grove area to the south of Miami City, boasting a 50 metre competition standard, outdoor pool. A bridge divides it in two and they’re racing in both. There’s also a 25 m warm up/down pool to one end.

Ransom Everglades School pool

This meet is being run by the Local Miami LGBT club Nadadores in conjunction with International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics, so everyone here knows what they are doing in spite of the collapse of the Out Games. It’s hot here even at 8am so I apply sun block like everyone else and take to the chilled water to warm up. It’s a little too soon after breakfast and some of it comes up while I’m swimming. I have to swallow, which is not quite as bad as it sounds, rather than mess up the pool. I suddenly run into Daniel Paul from Out to Swim London. He’s racing as well as playing water polo for London Orcas. Instant recognition – we’re finding our team here as we go.

           It’s time to get into my new Arena carbon fibre compression jammers. Tristan from Wet Ones Sydney is also getting into his pair. It takes around 5 minutes – another time factor to consider. He’s a bit further on than me but suddenly, just as he’s got them on, they split along the crutch line – not really a good look so he has to change back into his regular jammers. I take extra care and slowly encourage the fabric up my thighs, squeezing my bum into the back and bringing the top band up to my waist – whew. It really is like coaxing a tight stocking upwards. All is well and I have time to try them out in the warm-up pool before my race. They feel good and the water rolls off the surface. There are eight guys here in my age-group, but unusually, I’m the only one doing the 50 backstroke. That’s no reason to slack off especially at this is my only race today. I win the heat and shave off a fraction from my seed time.  I’ve been keeping in contact with Daniel Wu from Team Auckland. He’s flying in from Houston this morning and there is some doubt if he will be on time for the 50 back. He texts via Messenger that he’s on his way form the airport and in the end arrives in time to both warm up and race, so all is well, as TAMS coach, Cynthia, has asked me to ‘look after him’.

Out to Swim Mixed Relay team

Suddenly I make contact with Donna Pinto and Anna Moody from Out to Swim London and we have the possibility to form a relay team. I call up Rob, but he’s speaking at the Human Rights conference today and in the end Daniel Paul doesn’t have to go off and play Water Polo just yet, so we have a mixed freestyle relay team in the 160 age group. Hurrah! Actually we are the only team in that group, but Anna and Donna are thrilled to win their first international awards, and we’ve done a respectable time. We’re all resigned to not receiving medals as rumour has it that WOG didn’t even order them. Credit to Anna for organising us and doing the paper work – we feel like a team here.  They are also

Donna on her marks

staying at Miami Beach, so I get a ride back with them in their rental car. Donna says that there is a whole league of Lesbian Baseball players here in Miami and they didn’t even know about the Out Games. How can that happen? You would have thought that accessing local sports groups would be a first organisational step for all the sports.

 

Hip Hop Crowds

Back on South Beach, the barricades are up and people are everywhere. It is startling to see women walking around the town in skimpy bikinis, buttocks on full display and breasts almost as visible. The guys are all topless but there are no speedos here – the fashion is for the baggy beach shorts. Men and women sport tattoos – some done without much though to design. The US army has displays all along the beach park- commentaries are blaring out, but few are engaged, the crowds are all on the beach or parading down Ocean Drive. For Memorial Weekend there are also very noisy jet fighters frightening the life out of everyone.  I’ve had pulled pork in a soft white baguette from the ‘food truck’ at the pool – a tasteless experience, so a mango ice-cream from the gelato shop to take up the lift up to my room is required.  It goes well with coffee followed by a snooze.  Carbing up for tomorrow with a New York Steak for dinner and a glass of Malbec is a good idea and I sleep well.

Unexpected Miami

Breakwater Hotel on Ocean Drive

The traffic around South Beach Miami is in grid-lock around midnight, so my taxi has great difficulty reaching the Breakwater Hotel on the sea-front. The area is a vibrant party with people everywhere on the streets. My room is in a block accessed across a courtyard with live music and party-goers – through a corridor and into an ice cream parlour, where a lift takes me to the third floor.

Miami Beach before the festival crowds

It’s been a long Thursday – thirteen hours from Auckland to Houston then a six hour wait before flying on to Miami. Wifi at the airport fails to connect me to Uber and there’s nowhere to find a US sim card. It’s still only just Thursday as I hit the shower with the intention of going downstairs for a night-cap. I’m too knackered for that and, breaking all my rules regarding hotel mini bars, I open the half-bottle of Cabernet Sauvingon on offer. It’s just what I need,

Miami Police in elegant accomodation

because there’s a hip hop festival going on outside. I fall asleep synchronising my heart beat with the music coming through the windows – briefly waking at 4.30 to note silence. Awaking somewhat refreshed and after an average, but global type, hotel breakfast of scrambled eggs and chicken sausages, I decide to explore.  Just across the road is the Art Deco Information Centre, where a helpful woman hands me the usual brochure, pointing out locations of the Jewish Museum and the Watsonian.

‘Is that related to the one in Washington?’ I ask.

‘No, that’s the Smithsonian.’

‘Of course it is.’

‘That’s OK, everyone confuses them.’

‘What’s in it?’

‘Art and design.’

I’m hooked and make a beeline as it’s literally two blocks along 10th Street. It’s too early – time to walk and look at Art Deco architecture. There’s much more that I’d imagined and I get the feeling that this might be the true Art Deco Capital of the world – sorry Napier (NZ).  I check my balance at the Bank of America  ATM – my usual procedure – just to let my bank know where I am. Passing a phone shop is an opportunity to get a US sim card.  This takes longer than usual as the guy is only experienced with iphones, but we get there. The Watsonian is an excellent and well curated collection over two exhibition floors.

Male nude

A gigantic metal sculpture of a nude muscle man in Deco style dominates the ground floor lobby by the lift. The sixth floor is dedicated to Dutch design and art from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s. There are propaganda posters covering the range of political views, architecture, furniture and interior design.  Of particular note are examples of Nazi art and graphics. I spot a chap giving a young man a personal tour and eaves-drop on some of his comments. Some of the art and graphic representations are examples of how the European colonisers depicted native peoples in idealised ways which the subjects would not recognise, or identify with. The collection continues in the same vein on the 5th floor with studies for wall murals with overt political messages. Here is proof that the struggle of the left is recognised and recorded in this ever right-leaning country. Further down the building, a library (collected by the founder) occupies an entire floor.

Dutch Communist poster
Panel from the smoking room of a luxury liner
Romantic misappropriation of First Nation Amreicans

It’s coffee time and I’ve spotted the French bakery, recommended by the woman from the Information Centre. Yes they can do a late, but it’s too cold, weak and full of froth – a great disappointment. I’m missing New Zealand Coffee and in particular my favourites on

London Underground and the spire from the NY Woolworths buidling make it here

Waiheke Island. Lunch at the gay Palace Bar – ‘because every Queen needs a palace’ – is seared fresh tuna on a salad – just right and proving that you can eat healthy food in America. Time for a snooze before setting out to do my Out Games registration – there’s been an update email directing us to The

Unusual perspective by young artist. Self portrait with wife and son.

Lowes Hotel seven blocks away. There has been no signage around the streets, advertising this world event and only when I get to the hotel lobby do I see a sign by the escalator. At the top I find Rob Wintermute from Out To Swim London, enjoying his complimentary bap after registering for the Human Rights Conference (he’s a human rights lawyer) which is a part of the games. He’s also doing athletics as well as swimming. He tells me that there are two women here from OTS so there might be a chance of a mixed relay team. We exchange US phone numbers. I head to the check in area where guys are milling around looking confused. Suddenly Ivan, the Games CEO, who came all the way to

Study of war lords for community mural

Auckland months ago to drum up support, comes out of a door. He doesn’t remember meeting me at a drinks reception Team Auckland organised, but he has a hassled look on his face. Apparently, swimming is registering at the Marriot Hotel a few blocks away so I set off with an Australian Swimmer, only to find that the Marriot hotel we need is miles away in Coconut Grove, near the swimming pool. We both decide not to bother as registration packs are always available at the pool on the day. I go back to the hotel and find an announcement on facebook that all WOG sporting events have been cancelled except Aquatics, Soccer and Country Dancing. No wonder Ivan was looking sick.

The first stacking chairs to retain elegance.
Self portrait (selfie) with Art Deco dressing table

OK, time to attend to the jet lag which is catching up on me. The consequence of this is that I don’t sleep well later. Admittedly the music is very loud tonight and the streets are heaving with African Americans doing ‘The Cake Walk’ – having a great time and looking everything from outrageous to fabulous. Too many things are running through my mind – my return to London and what has to be done. I’m busy planning ahead.

Corner Deco

World Masters Games Part III

Day Five Tuesday

Elizabeth, Coach & Team Captain

It’s a day for hard races. Elizabeth and I are doing the 200m backstroke. Cynthia and other TAMS swimmers make it in time to see Elizabeth come in on time to win a bronze medal. We are all ecstatic. I have to rush off to warm up for my race, which goes very well – all turns are perfect today and I’m placed 6th. Debs also has a hard day with 200Fly (2nd) and 400IM (3rd). The TAMS women are doing well.

We’ve struck up a friendship with a bunch of Canadians sitting next to us.  They are from Vancouver Island and are all in the older age groups – like us.  The Wellington team have taken to sitting behind us, so when we are not racing, there’s plenty to cheer for.

Elizabeth and Canadians
Our bronze medlalist

Day Six Wednesday

Team Captain tying to look cool.

It’s an early start as it’s the 100m freestyle, which just about everyone in the world has entered. I get to warm up in the competition pool and wait for Elizabeth in heat 20. She’s bought one of those Arena compression swim suits and recons she swims faster – well .03 secs actually, but once again a lovely race and placed 13th. I have to go across to the warm-up pool just to re-warm-up and then to marshaling. I’m in lane 4 and on seed time am supposed to be the fastest in the heat. Sitting next to me in the marshaling rows is a 44 year-old Australian with Downs Syndrome. He says he’s a para swimmer and I tell him I know that. He’s small and wiry looking and I recon he’s fast and I can tell he’s competitive. We chat about the Australian Para team that has come over. Out in the pool I get a chance to look at the guy in lane 5 – a short stocky Canadian a bit younger than me – could be a threat.  I start off doing bilateral breathing so I can keep an eye on both guys. The Australian is keeping up but the Canadian is pulling slightly ahead. I work harder on the way back down the pool and concentrate on catching the Canadian but he’s getting faster as well and out of reach.  It’s made me come in under time and the Para Australian is only a length behind me. I sneak into the training pool to warm down – normally reserved for Para swimmers and the 70+. The Australian is warming down next to me watched by a woman who I mistake for his coach – she’s his mother. Apparently he’s just swum a personal best. ‘You must be very proud,’ I say. She says, ‘Yes he’s a great swimmer.’

Debs & Ross

It’s back to the pool for Ross and Ron to swim their 100m races. Ross takes off 4 seconds and Ron, .04. There’s more slashing of times in the 50m Breaststroke: Ron – 2, David – .50 and Ed – 2 seconds. Unfortunately Ed gets disqualified again – for not having his feet on the same horizontal plane. We are sitting watching the first heat of the Women’s 100m butterfly – not something that I could ever contemplate. There are three in the pool the 95 yea-old American and others in their 80’s from Japan and Canada. Wow, it’s amazing that these women can swim this race. The women in their 80’s complete their race while the American reaches the end of the first length. She stops, holding on to the rung of the starting block. There’s concern, but a lane judge is watching her without panic. She’s having a rest, for about two minutes, before setting off back down the pool.  The cheering is tremendous and she gets out of the pool unaided and raises her arms in triumph to the spectator gallery. Ross is in action now in his 100m butterfly heat, slashing a massive 22 seconds off his time to come 7th.  We are also treated to some breathtaking swimming from the younger guys and ex Olympians in this event. They make it look so easy, and I know that it’s not.

TAMS Swimmers

Our final event for the day is the Men’s 4 x 50 metres medley relay and I’m starting us off with backstroke. It’s a mad dash up the pool and I’ve no idea how we are doing. By the time I get out of the pool, Ed has done his breaststroke length – he was nervous about getting disqualified again. Ross is steaming up the pool with butterfly making up time and Ron does likewise with freestyle bringing us under our seed time by two seconds to 9th place in the 240 age group.

Day 7 Thursday

Coach and Jenny

It’s the last day in the pool and the car park is full to overflowing. I find a place right at the bottom on stony ground between a curb and the perimeter fence. David is all ready for his 200 breaststroke when I arrive. Although he doesn’t quite equal his seed time, he has the longest underwater starts and push-offs in the heat – fantastic. Now it’s the 50 metres freestyle, a long session of ‘Splash & Dash’ as they call it. Once again, the world and his wife (but not I) have entered. Jenny comes 5th with 35.85s, Ron cuts a second off for 9th place and Ross on a mission, mindful that he’s swimming 100 times this on Sunday in the 5K ocean swim, does 27.55s to come 9th. The competition in this event is fierce and spectacular with 32 heats of women and 40 heats of men.  The confusion and noise only increases

Men’s 200m F/s Relay team

for the 4 x 50m freestyle relays.  Our men’s team in the 200 years group is somewhat disadvantaged by being only 6 years short of the 240 year group. Nevertheless, we are not last. I start out with 36:28 followed by Ron at 35:89. David increases the pace with 33:03 with Ross to finish with 27:77 –  we are 11th.

We are not going to squad tonight; instead the team meet for a celebratory dinner and join up with the rest of Team Auckland Masters Swimmers for a drink at the World Masters Games Hub on Queens Wharf. It’s been a blast and I’ve planted the seed of an idea to go to Japan in four years time for the next World Masters.

World Masters Games – Part 2

Day 3 Sunday

Kevin after his 400m Freestyle

Ed and I drive out to the pool early to support Kevin in his 400m Freestyle race. We have the banner to display and make our presence felt. It also acts as a signpost for team members to find us.  The Indian guy who took so long in the 800m on Friday is swimming so I warn Kevin that he has a while to wait. The Indian swaps from breaststroke to backstroke half way though and takes twenty-two minutes to complete. Kevin swims a great strategic race – he’s in lane 4 in the middle of the pool and comes second in his heat shaving 20 seconds off his time. The 400 is a punishing race, difficult to judge. We’d been lucky to catch Rebecca Perrott steam elegantly to victory earlier and now we cheer on Martin from Different Strokes Wellington. There’s also a para swimmer with one leg in the same heat. He turns out to be from the LGBT Sydney team – Wet Ones. I have time to warm-up before Elizabeth’s 100m Backstroke. Although she’s a little slower than she wanted she looks great in the water. As I’m waiting in the marshaling tent, there’s an Australian para swimmer with cerebral palsy lining up for his heat. These guys all get a tremendous reception from

TAMS on Sunday

swimmers and spectators. I always find 100 backstroke a hard race to judge – not going out too fast on the first length – it’s so easy to get carried away with the start, then not having anything left for the finish. I request a starting bar (a relatively new experience for me) which is lowered to just under the water-line. It is beveled into the wall and has a rough anti-slip surface. The feet are planted on it to start, getting them high and in the right position. I’m also trying out the new straight-arm starting position which I picked up at the Waitakere Club’s Backstroke and Breaststroke clinic recently. The theory is that you start high up and there’s not so far to travel before entering the pool for that underwater dolphin kick. All goes well and I make my time and am now officially 6th in the world – Haha. Just as well Mike Bodger from Whakatane isn’t here or I’d be 7th. Kevin is doing the same race in the same lane in the following heat. I turn around and promise to warm up the lane for him. He shaves 5 seconds off his time and is now 4th in the world. He’s really having a great meet.  The guy with cerebral palsy is now racing in his age-group but has his own category. It’s a huge effort for him to swim two lengths of the pool and he gets a massive round of applause at the end.

Jenny on news of her medal

Our big chance for a medal is Jenny in the 50m Butterfly. A Russian woman has put in the same time and two others are in close contention. We are all in a state of great excitement and anticipation as Jenny needs to swim 2 seconds faster than she did yesterday in the medley relay. We are all shouting and waving the banner. Coach Cynthia has come in to watch from the gallery with other TAMS members. Jen gets a good start, spending the longest time underwater to come up level with the field. The Russian fades away to her left but there’s a fight to her right for first and second. Jenny hangs in there for third place. When she gets out of the pool, she has no idea and is blown away when she realises that she’s got a bronze.

Jenny & Mike

It’s also great that we’ve been able to smuggle her partner Mike poolside to see it all and get a wet hug. Earlier we’ve seen a 95 year-old American sharing a heat with a couple of women in their 80’s doing 50 fly. It’s amazing.  Ed, Ron and Ross are also doing 50 Fly and come in under time. Ron shaves a massive two seconds off his time to come fourth in the world. It’s now a rush to get showered and changed as I want to catch Jenny’s medal ceremony. I just miss it, but get the photographic evidence.

Jenny wins Bronze
Ross and Kuoni after Butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4 Monday

Elizabeth and Debs

I’m not swimming today, so the old body can have a rest. I’m here to support and check that the team is all in the right place at the right time, especially for the relays.  Elizabeth is all ready for the 200m freestyle when I arrive. She’s such an elegant swimmer and looks so relaxed in the water. She’s also an ocean swimmer and regularly does 2.4K in a wetsuit, so I suggest that she might like to try an 800m or 1500m some time in the pool. Kevin is also doing the 200m and once again judges his race well. Ron’s had an encounter with a dodgy smoothy and has to drop out of the 200. It’s been another great day for the para swimmers and ex Olympians.  We get to see Moss Burmester, Trent Bray and Anthony Moss in action – fantastic times for guys in middle age.

Elizabeth Ross Martin (DSW) and Ed

Our relay today is the mixed freestyle 4 X 50 for the 240 age group. Our team actually adds up to 265 – over by 25 years. Kevin, Jenny, Elizabeth and Ron cut a fantastic six seconds off our entered time to come 11th.

The World Masters Games – Auckland 2017 Part I

Team Auckland at the Cloud after accreditation.

Sounds impressive doesn’t it?  Begun in 1985, The World Masters Games happens every four years and you have to be over thirty to compete. In the case of swimming you can be 25. This year, in Auckland there are 27,000 competitors, twenty nine sports and 100 countries involved.  You might wonder what happens to ex Olympians and the answer is that when they are old enough or retire from coaching,  they become master. We’re rubbing shoulders with runner Peter Snell, doing table tennis, and Rebecca Perrott, still swimming, winning medals and breaking records in her age group.

I’m the team captain for Team Auckland Masters Swimmers, one of two LGBT clubs in New Zealand and I’ve persuaded seven others to enter the games.

Day one – Friday

The venue – sir Owen Glen Pool

I’m staying with team-mate Ed in Freeman’s Bay/ Ponsonby, so it’s only a fifteen minute drive over the bridge and up the motorway to the two year-old Sir Own Glen National Aquatics centre, adjacent to the AUT Millennium pool which has been taken over for warm-ups. I’m the only one from TAMS doing the 800 metres freestyle and this is the only event scheduled for toady.

The Pool

There are 12 women’s heats and 13 for the men. It’s a bit nerve-wracking sussing out how everything works and as I’ve arrived too early, I sit and watch the women race. I manage to catch Rebecca Perrott’s heat. She’s perfect. The Canadian in the next lane starts fast and Rebecca is a comfortable third at the first turn. She gets faster and several lengths later has left the Canadian in the proverbial dust. It’s fantastic to watch.

Before my first race 800M

I’m trying to time my warm-up with checking in for my heat. Marshalling is in a heated tent out the front of the pool and the woman in charge says come back at 2:00pm.  I’ve probably done too much of a warm-up as I’m now a bit hungry. Reporting in for heat five, I find that heat two is still running. New Zealand Masters stalwarts, Fritz Bohn (85) – who always does backstroke and Sydney Salek (87) are swimming in this heat, so I know it’s going to take a long time. As I wait, I’m sitting next to a Kiwi chap in my age group. There’s a recognition of age between swimmers as there are no secrets. Our ages are all printed on the heat sheets.  We chat – he’s from South Auckland and is worried that the delay will inconvenience his wife.

‘This is what keeps us alive,’ I say.

He agrees. ‘I’ve had a bye-pass – got the scar down my front.’

I tell him about my first UK Nationals – seeing all the old people parading their bypass scars. He’s also worried that he’s spending too much time swimming and not being with his wife.

‘Tell her she’s lucky to have you alive,’ I advise.

TAMS having a riotous time before the ceremony

It becomes clear the at the 82 year-old Indian chap in lane one is going to take even longer. He’s reckoned on thirty-nine minutes but he’s doing a very slow breast stroke with almost no kick and eventually finishes after 59 minutes. By the time we get to my heat, the benefits of the warm-up are wearing off and I’m running low on fuel. It’s a tough race and I quickly realise that the guy in the next lane is faster than the time he’s entered. I had hoped to shadow him but he speeds ahead after the second length. Still my time is about right for me all things considered.  It’s just as well that I’ve brought a bag of fruit and nuts so I wash them down with water on the long drive back through heavy Friday afternoon traffic.

Eden Park

There’s no time to stop and rest at Ed’s place as we have to make our way by bus, train and foot to Eden Park – the iconic New Zealand rugby stadium, for the Official opening of the games. Amazingly, the trains are well organised; stilt walkers greet us and volunteers with signs point us in the direction of our designated entrance. It’s huge buzz as we carry the TAMS banner through the streets of Mount Eden, gathering team mates as we go. There’s time to grab a Thai Green Chilli and rice for dinner and find a central place to sit with the other swimmers from around the world. Our friends from the Waitakare team are sitting nearby looking great in their new black and green club uniforms. Further down there is a group of colourfully attired Lithuanians. Earlier I spotted and Iranian team of some sort (no travel ban here) plus Russians, Poles and loads of Canadians.  The New Zealand Maori Quartet are in fine voice to warm us up and the show is compared by Ex netball player and now sports commentator, Jenny-May Coffin.  There’s lots of smoke being wafted over the rugby pitch and each seat has a white wrist band attached, containing batteries and electronics, which we have to put

Opening ceremony – lazers

on for later in the show. It’s made in China.  There’s a fantastic Maori welcome from Te Waka Huia and a magical cloud effect from the smoke is created with lasers, representing Aotearoa – the land of the long white cloud. It’s all a bit dark and gloomy, a bit like primordial forest and the Maori warriors doing their stuff get rather lost.  When our wrist bands light up in sequence it all gets exciting.  Then of course there are the inevitable welcome speeches from the games President, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Auckland and the chief sponsor – a real estate agent.

Our wrist lights

Then there’s more music as we, sport by sport come down to the Rugby pitch and parade around in semi darkness. Swimming is to follow Golf but when we get down on the field, there is no sign of the Swimming banner, so we end up following Golf.  This of course is a clever way to get us all out of the stadium in an orderly fashion where there are move volunteers holding up gigantic arrows pointing the way to buses and trains.  It’s mercifully shorter than the

Maori warriors

Olympic ceremony and we’re grateful to Auckland Transport for putting on extra trains into town. Great hilarity ensues in the crowded carriage, led by a large Australian bloke, looking for his mate Trevor who was supposed to be somewhere else on the train. In the end he got of alone at the same stop as us, so we will never know if Trevor was real or imaginary.

Day Two Saturday

Debs does backstroke in the 200 IM
Ross and Me after the 200 IM

It’s another tough race today; the 200 metre Individual Medley for Me and team-mate Ross. My warm-up timing is better today but I’m in an ‘age-group’ heat. They put the top fastest in each age-group in a heat so as I’m in lane 9 this means that I am in the top ten of the 65-69 year-olds, I’m also the slowest. We’re sitting in the heated marshaling tent when it becomes apparent that three guys have not turned up. Two of them (from Russia) are the fastest seeds and there’s also no one in lane 8 next to me. I’ll be automatically promoted to 7th in the world so I decide to concentrate on style and just getting through the race. For me 50m butterfly is exhausting – it’s only the fact that I have to get to the other end that keeps me going – so there’s no point rushing it. The second length, backstroke should be my best, but I always spend it recovering from the butterfly. I’m none to keen on breaststroke but am getting better, so it’s not until the last lap of freestyle that I really get going. I’m pleased – only a few seconds away from my predicted time.

Me – the banner holder

Now, as Team Captain, I’m there to wave the banner, cheer and encourage everyone else. Ross is pleased with his 200IM time and we go across the road together to warm-down. It’s good to get rid of the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles. Debs Hanley has her Masters registration with us but lives in Masterton. She’s also doing the 200 IM. She has a very stylish and sedate butterfly stroke.  Elizabeth is next up with 100m Breaststroke and is close to her seed time. Ed is also doing 100m breaststroke and is very nervous. He has a little wobble on the starting blocks between ‘take your marks’ and the gun. He then dives at a funny angle and looses his goggles, proceeding to swim the race with them around his neck. We later find out that he’s been disqualified – presumably for his wobble on the block. It’s a shame but he later dines out on this story to all his friends.

Mixed Medley Relay team

Now we only have the Mixed Medley relay to go and anxiously await Jenny’s arrival. The team’s combined age is 238 years – only two years away from the next age group – so we are at a bit of a disadvantage even with young Ross making up time on the last lap with a fast freestyle. We are not last though – 20th out of 22 in the 200 years age-group and swimming four seconds faster that predicted. Ed also redeemed himself swimming the breaststroke section with no wobble or loss of goggles.

In the evening we host a happy hour at Shanghai Lil’s in Karangahape Road for any LGBT athletes in the games.

Swimming at Taupo & Mt Roskill

Lake Taupo sculpture view
Lake Taupo sculpture view

The North Island Masters Champs in May was the first opportunity to test out the competition in my new age group.  Hoping to take advantage of being one of the youngest,  expectations were dashed by the discovery that there are quite a few fast blokes still around.  Two of them are backstrokers, driving me into second or third place.  It all becomes a matter of strategy, trying to second guess who is going to enter which event and turn up on the day.

Some people assumed that I was going to Taupo to swim in the lake.  It’s a cold body of water even in mid summer and I’m no open water swimmer, besides, you can’t see the black lines on the bottom.

AC Baths sunshine and shadows
AC Baths sunshine and shadows

The AC baths are heated by geo-thermal energy and although you don’t swim in hot mineral water, there is a faint taste of something salty.  The Brown Trout meet they held last

At AC Baths Taupo
At AC Baths Taupo

September saw me come away with two personal bests, but not on this occasion .  Times were only slightly down except for the 800m freestyle where I struggled with sharing a lane (they do that here to save time) ending up with third place.  I was onto a winner though with the 100m Individual Medley, clearly not a popular choice.

Taupo Sculpture
Taupo Sculpture

The lake was incredibly beautiful and deserted , the summer tourists long gone. I set out in my elderly Toyota Rav4, on the Sunday around the eastern shore-line on my way South to visit friends and relatives –  a road trip which took me via Palmerston North to Tawa, Welington, Martinborough, Wakarara and Havelock North.

Mount Roskill Masters celebrated thirty years with a record turnout at the Cameron pools.  Team Auckland visibility doubled to two, with Ron Judd joining me.  It should have been three, but sadly, Ross – newly arrived from the US – was stricken with a lurgy.  Get well soon buddy.

Me & Ron at Roskill
Me & Ron at Roskill

Ron and I are off to Edmonton (Canada) for the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics in August, so this meet was good preparation.  Although it didn’t feel fast, my times in fact crept up and I was particularly pleased with my 100m Freestyle.  The fast backstrokers didn’t turn up but there’s one guy from Auckland Central who is ahead on freestyle.  Ron was racing the 100 fly for the first time, which he’s entered in Edmonton and was pleased to come in right on his estimated time.  As usual, the food laid on after the meet was fantastic and both of us came away with second place ribbons in our respective age groups.

2nd place at Roskill
2nd place at Roskill

The Big Gay Swim

Monday is the big day.  A 5am rise for me, a drive to catch the 6am ferry then a train to Henderson. The organisers have arranged with Auckland Transport to allow us, with our registration tags to travel on the train for free – hurrah!  Australian swimmers join the train and I point them in the right direction for the pool at the Westwave Leisure Centre.

West Wave Leisure Centre
West Wave Leisure Centre

Team Auckland members and volunteers are already hard at work setting up the pool, putting in the timing pads and lining up chairs.  I set to work filling out the lunch vouchers for the day with volunteers’ names and my signature.  I get a message from the

Me with the Deputy Mayor, Cynthia and Jeremy Photo by Andrea Robinson
Me with the Deputy Mayor, Cynthia and Jeremy
Photo by Andrea Robinson

Deputy Mayor that she will be a few minutes late and is cycling to us so I wait outside the pool as arranged, to greet her.  She looks regal, arriving on a battery assisted ecycle – all the rage here – in a bright pink shirt – appropriate for the occasion, but with a bloody elbow where she’d ‘canned of’ the bike trying to answer her phone.  No, she didn’t need a plaster, but makes the most of the story in her speech, exhorting us ‘older people’ not to think that we can behave like we’re in our 20’s any more.

Jenny swims fly
Jenny swims fly

Proof of accessibility to politicians here is demonstrated by no accompanying security, a warm greeting for me with a hug and a kiss.  Can you imagine that happening in London?  Many people involved in the Swim event know Penny personally – including the official photographer Andrea, working for Gaynz.  My job is to show her in to the pool – they all know her at reception – introduce TAMS Chair, Jeremy and Coach Cynthia, then disappear.  Instead I find myself herded into a group photo by Andrea.

The opening goes well, but I’ve missed the official warm-up, a chance to check turns and get the measure of the pool which I’ve not swim in before.  I’m delighted to note that the new starting blocks have that adjustable raised ledge at the back familiar from Ponds Forge pool in Sheffield.  I content myself warming up in the diving pool, which is about 20 metres wide, while the 1500m freestyle event plods along.  I’m monitoring my legs closely, avoiding anything which will cause cramp and have even come supplied with glucose tablets to feed them instant energy.

Looking relaxed in the 200m Backstroke Photo by Andrea Robinson
Looking relaxed in the 200m Backstroke
Photo by Andrea Robinson

First up for me is the 200m Backstroke which under any circumstances is a punishing race and to be one’s first of a meet makes it more so. I’ve been working on my backstroke since disastrous times and disqualifications a couple of years ago.  My plan is to start off steady and settle into the stroke, so I’ve got something left for the last 50m.  The result is pleasing as I cut 5 seconds off my last long course time at Papatoetoe last year – still nowhere near my personal best, but hey, I’m a couple of years older now and moved into the next age group.  Theoretically all my times this year are PB’s.

Do we have a relay team and who is in it?
Do we have a relay team and who is in it?

As there are only two heats of the 200 Backstroke, I’m thrown straight into the 200 Medley Relay and because I’m the back-stroker in the club, get to start the race.  Mindful of the 200 Individual Medley coming up, I ease up on my kick. Besides, all the others are much younger and faster – our team has a combined age of 279 years.  Fortunately there’s a twenty minute break now, time to swim down and refuel with a glucose tablet.  I’ve never swum a 200 IM before and worked out my estimated time by doubling my 100m time and adding 30 seconds.

Anyone for a massage by Ivan or Ismail? James is up for it.
Anyone for a massage by Ivan or Ismail? James is up for it.

I know the trick here is to relax and take it easy.  It’s not four 50m sprints and the first length of Butterfly can be exhausting, my weakest stroke is Breast, which I also find hard work, leaving me to make up time on Backstroke and the final Freestyle.  Amazingly, I come in only .90 seconds over my estimation plus they announce that I now hold the record for this event. Wow … except –looking up the records later – no one in my age group has ever swum this event in the short history of Asia Pacific Out Games/ Proud to Play.  My last swim of the day is the 100 Back which is 2 seconds slower than hoped for.

Our Team Auckland
Our Team Auckland

Tuesday is also a 5am start with a new lot of volunteer vouchers to organise.  This time I get to warm up in the main pool and psyche myself up for the 800m Freestyle, a distance I’ve come to enjoy.  There are only three of us in the first heat and there doesn’t look as if there’s anyone who can push me along.  Megan from Wet Ones, Sydney looks handy in the lane next to me and we level peg for around 50m.  When she drops back I realise that I’ve got to race against the clock plus leave something in the tank for the last 100m.

The end of the 800m Freestyle Photo by Andrea Robinson
The end of the 800m Freestyle
Photo by Andrea Robinson

It goes to plan and I spot team mate Jenny waving me on.   I can tell that Megan is 10 – 15 metres behind me because I hear her final lap whistle and speed up. As I sprint down the final lap, ahead of the field, I get the feeling that I’m showing off now. Nice.  Andrea, the photographer shoots me and Bella the turns judge says ‘Good race.’  The timekeeper has kept a note of my splits and its perfect, each 100 getting faster to the end and a new Long course PB. Yay!

My silver medal
My silver medal

Penny, the Deputy Mayor has come back, this time in her swimming togs and draped in the TAMS towel we gave her yesterday.  She’s organised a scratch relay team of ‘unattached’ people, just for fun and Andrea is running around taking lots of photos now.  I have a 4 x 50m freestyle relay to swim which goes ok, then it’s my last event, the 50m Backstroke.  By now I’ve forgotten about my legs so on the last 25 metres the cramp strikes, not seriously, but enough to take one second off my seed time.  Definitely time to re-evaluate sprinting and starting a new set of Personal Bests for my new 65 – 69 age group.  It’s been good that there are four of us competing in this group, though my only challenge was in the 200m Backstroke.

Medal line up for the 65-69 age group Photo by Andrea Robinson
Medal line up for the 65-69 age group
Photo by Andrea Robinson

The organisers of Proud to Play blanched at the number of medals required to cover every age group in the swimming, so we compromised and points are counted up and medals awarded to the top three. Peter from

David Jeremy and Cynthia are acknowledged Photo by Andrea Robinson
David Jeremy and Cynthia are acknowledged
Photo by Andrea Robinson

Wet Ones wins the Gold medal for the most points and I come in with Silver.  After the medals, there are more presentations and I find my self presenting flowers to President Jeremy and Secretary David.  Cynthia, who has masterminded the whole operation, gets a special mention and flowers.

After clearing up, there’s fun to be had in the water chute which we’ve arranged for the swimmers and volunteers to enjoy.  First time down is really scary.  Getting flung from side to side in the dark with brief moments of light is scary – it goes on forever and dumps me under water at the bottom feeling quite dizzy.  I get bolder and we team up getting up to five at a time all holding each other, until the lifeguard thinks we should not go beyond that.  Later we all meet up at our regular bar in the Viaduct region, downtown for nibbles and drinks with the other swimmers.  Peter from Wet Ones Sydney tells me that if I had entered 6 races I would have won the Gold.  He’s very competitive and pretends to be put out that I beat him in the Backstroke.  It wasn’t to be as all the events were too close together for me to do justice to six events.

Daniel and Ivan having a cultural exchange with Dave from Sydney
Daniel and Ivan having a cultural exchange with Dave from Sydney

The cultural exchange with the Australians continues on the Thursday when they turn up to our regular training session and help us fill three lanes.  It’s always good to have a full lane and they push us along.  A great swim and more drinks afterwards.

The Pride Parade marks the end of the celebrations and we are all summoned to march between the two Proud 2 Play vehicles up Ponsonby Road.  Last year we marched down the road.  As usual, there’s a lot of standing about before it all gets going and when it does we realise that we are near the end as Miss Ribena, the Police, the Armed Forces, the National Party and the Labour Party all go to the front of the queue.  Even the ANZ bank get going before us so that we trail behind the Queer Vegans.

Team Auckland Parade
Team Auckland Parade

The Australians have stayed on for pride and there’s quite a bit of stripping down to Speedos. A couple of the Sydney Wet Ones wear ‘Budgie Smugglers’ – it’s a brand.  Tee shirts are discarded and retrieved when the sun goes behind clouds as we’re all waiting to get going.

Neal from Wet Ones and the guy from WA
Neal from Wet Ones and the guy from WA

There are rumours of demonstrations ahead holding up the proceedings.  Christian and TPP (Trans Pacific Parnership) protesters are mentioned. There are complaints but one of the swimmers (from Western Australia) keeps reminding us that ‘everyone has a right to protest.’ Yes! Later, it transpires that there’s also a demo in Karangahape Road (top of Ponsonby) about the way Gay & Trans prisoners are treated in prisons.  Yes to this as well.

The Budgie Smugglers
The Budgie Smugglers

When we do get going, it’s a blast and loads of fun, dancing up the street – with my tee shirt on.  I meet up with some old friends on the way, but don’t feel like queuing for food and drink at the nearby park at the end of the parade.  Just as I’m making my escape, I come across Andrea, the photographer, sitting on a wall looking completely exhausted.  I want some of her photos from the swimming, but she is unable to speak and can only delve into her pocket and give me a crumpled piece of paper, which I assume is her card.  I slip it into my pocket and walk back down the road, stopping to have a glass of wine or two with Ed, from TAMS before making a dash for the Waiheke Ferry.

Pacifica is marching
Pacifica is marching
Glamour on a truck
Glamour on a truck

Gay Pride in Auckland

Considering that New Zealand passed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill as late as1986, the celebration of Pride has leapt ahead.  By contrast, London Gay Pride’s attempts to turn into a parade or carnival, have failed.  It has remained essentially a march, albeit a huge one, with an after party in Trafalgar Square or in a club of one’s choice, all happening on the one day.

In Auckland, celebrations now go on for two weeks, beginning with a huge cultural offer which, quite frankly, puts London to shame.  Covering exhibitions, film, Literature, Theatre and Comedy, there’s also the Heroic Garden Festival where you can meet the gay garden owners.

I manage to get off Waiheke Island to a couple of the theatre shows in town.

SCCZEN_No_More_Dancing_in_the_Good_620x310
Chris Parker in No more Dancing in the Good Room

Chris Parker’s No More Dancing in the Good Room is a coming out one man show indulging Chris’s desire to dance ballet.  There’s not quite enough material to make the show work but the finale where Chris dances a duet with a home movie of his younger self in the kitchen is very moving.

Living on an Island, I make the most of time in the city and see The Legacy Project in the same evening.  Here, six emerging queer writers, present short plays.  Things are looking good for the future of queer theatre writing, particularly with the introduction of Trans issues.  Trans (male to female or female to male) is the new frontier to be won and two of the plays bravely make a start on what proves to be a rich subject and hopefully work for trans performers in the future.  The Pronoun Game was the most confrontational and experimental of the six plays.  The premise is the cleaning of a bedroom, but the subtext delves into gender identity and Trans/intersex possibilities.  Clad in a flesh coloured body stocking the protagonist seems asexual but  several conversations with friends and colleagues later conclude that being naked might have been an even bolder decision.  My favourite, however, is Sean Carley’s The Last Date.  A man in his fifties wants to try sex with a man before he dies.  Bedevilled by inaccurate on-line dating information, neither man is what the other expects.  This chimed with me in my current dilemma, to date younger men or continue looking for that elusive companion around my own age.

Hard working Proud to Play Organisers Craig (Centre) and Dion (R) with Volunteer Marjo
Hard working Proud to Play Organisers Craig (Centre) and Dion (R) with Volunteer Marjo
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse

My main focus at this time is on swimming. I’m on the committee organising the Swimming Competition, part of the Proud to Play sporting festival. I end up with two contrasting tasks, organising a voucher system for volunteers to get a filled roll (ham or egg) from the pool café and inviting the Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse to open the event.

The Voucher job involves contacting the café manager for a quote and designing the voucher – easy.  Inviting the Deputy Mayor involves getting her contact details off the council website, calling her mobile number to leave a message with a follow up email.   She replies almost immediately with a yes and there follows an event sheet from her office to be filled in and returned – almost as easy as the vouchers. I can’t imagine the Deputy Mayor of London being so accessible or available.

Kevin and Elizabeth from TAMS get ready
Kevin and Elizabeth from TAMS get ready

I also volunteer for the Ocean Swim event. This is an opportunity for Proud to Play to combine with the Bean Rock swim starting and ending at Mission Bay on the Saturday.  Taking my fold up bike on the 8am ferry, I cycle around the harbour.  My job is to tick the Proud to Play swimmers off the list, get them to sign a waiver form and issue a purple/blue swim cap so we can identify them as they come in. My choice of UK English is picked up by a couple of cute American Guys who read ‘tick off’ as ‘told off’. They like that.   The distance out to Bean Rock and back is 3.2K and around the half way buoy 1.6k.  Two of us ‘check off’ (US & Kiwi English) the purple caps as they come in, for place and time.

Purple caps ready for the off.
Purple caps ready for the off.
Off they all go. Green caps n the 1.6K Yellow caps for those who are nervous
Off they all go. Green caps n the 1.6K Yellow caps for those who are nervous

Later we have our own medal ceremony and I get to award the guys – medal over the head and kiss on the cheek.  I then cycle off to do a final swim session in the 50m pool at Newmarket before our meet on Monday.  Standing on my feet all morning has taken its toll and after doing a sedate 1,400m I can hardly move my legs. The ride from the pool to downtown is all

TAMS medal winners Jeremy, David & Cynthia
TAMS medal winners Jeremy, David & Cynthia

down-hill and one of my favourite freewheeling journeys, so my legs come back to life and I arrive at Silo Park down by Auckland harbour all ready for the games opening ceremony.  A powhiri (welcome) from the local Maori has been organised and we, the people of Auckland welcome our visitors onto the land.  I’m always moved by this part of our culture and am pleased that it has become so much a part of tradition in Auckland.  Local ‘out’ lesbian MP Louisa Wall, who promoted the gay marriage bill is there along with the Mayor of Auckland Len Brown accompanied by his ‘Rainbow Advisory Board’.  It’s a great opening event and to my delight Trans activist and academic, Lexie Matheson is on that board.  I’ve not met up with her since we worked together as Actors in 1977 – a lovely reunion.

Maori Warriors stand guard
Maori Warriors stand guard
The guests approach
The guests approach

Sunday is Big Gay Out at Coyle Park, Point Chevalier.  For me, this is another volunteer job on the Proud to Play tent.  BGO is the usual info and merchandising tents with bars and a music stage with live acts.

The Haka
P2P volunteers release the rainbow balloons.
P2P volunteers release the rainbow balloons.

It’s become a tradition for the Prime Minister of the day to attend, but this year apparently, Prime Minister John Key got booed off the stage.  He hasn’t had a good month as reaction to the Trans Pacific Partnership kept him a way from the annual Waitangi Day Celebrations.  I miss all the drama – too busy sorting out registrations for gay athletes and by 4.30 I’m ready to cycle off to the ferry for an early night on Waiheke.

New Zealand Masters Swimming National Long Course Champs

It’s my first ‘sanctioned’ swim meet in New Zealand – Katikati and Wellington were for fun, and the experience.  This event is over two days and held at the Papatoetoe Centennial Pool, South Auckland.  I’ve been topping up my training sessions at the Te Huruhi Primary School pool on Saturday mornings with the occasional Sunday visit to the Tepid Baths in downtown Auckland.  As this is a Long Course meet, that means a 50 metre pool, I put in a session at the Newmarket Olympic Pool, which is woefully undersubscribed, so that team mate Clive and I have a lane to ourselves.

Papatoetoe Centennial Pool

Papatoetoe Centennial Pool

I’ve entered two races on the Friday evening session, but this means leaving Rocky Bay after Lunch and catching the 2.30 ferry with my fold up Brompton bike in the back of the Rav4.  The Brompton continues to get admiring glances and comments like ‘cool bike’ – it’s a great opener for conversation and people love to watch it being folded and un-folded.  At Britomart, I get on a train, but it has broken down and is cancelled.  The next train is fairly full, and gets even more crowded picking up the school kids as we go along.  By the time we get to Papatoetoe, careful manoeuvring is required to get me and the Brompton out of the train.  The cycle ride to the Centennial Pool turns out to be quite short, so I’m in good enough time for the warm-up. It’s a chance to get acquainted with an unfamiliar pool, practice turns and starts.

TAMS Coach Cynthia gets a job judging turns

TAMS Coach Cynthia gets a job judging turns

There are three of us from Team Auckland Masters Swimmers this evening and first up for me is the 100m Backstroke. It really does seem like a long way in a 50 metre pool, but it’s good enough to get a bronze medal.  David is doing the 1500m freestyle and in New Zealand, swimmers are able to swim their 800 metres concurrently but I can’t see how that works strategically.  The organisers are short on officials so I volunteer to flip the number chart at the end of the pool.  In order to save time this event is being done with two swimmers per lane.  This means combining two heats so each lane has a faster and slower swimmer.  For the first heat, we’ve got enough volunteers for each swimmer.  My swimmer is 83 and doing the whole race on his back and so needs to look back at the chart after he’s done his tumble turn.

Over in lane 6 Kath Johnstone, aged 98, is going for a world record.  Early on in the race, there’s a collision between her and the other swimmer in her lane.  She stops.  Long after all the others have finished, Kath is still going.  Every now and then she stops at an end for a rest.  Officials urge her to keep going and half way up the penultimate lap she hangs on to the lane rope for another rest.  I’ve no idea if she got her record or was disqualified. Swimmers discuss the rules and it seems you are allowed to stop or put your feet on the bottom as long as you don’t make progress.  Others reckon they’ve seen her take some steps, but It’s impossible to be sure.  The rain sets in and I get wet flipping for the next double heat.  The volunteers have melted away so I’m looking after two swimmers.  Just before that last heat, I discover that because most people are doing the concurrent entry, there is only the one heat of the 800m and I have to abandon the flip charts so I’m ready to swim.  I feel that I need another warm-up, but the indoor pool has closed.  It’s a bit weird sharing a lane, especially as my younger and faster neighbour has a style which churns up the water with his kick. Once he has finished, I can enjoy the lane to myself. Although my time is quite respectable, I’m knocked into third place by Mark Tibble – last met in Katikati. He has swum faster than me in his first 16 lengths of the 1500. Wow!  It’s a race now, to get the 10.15pm ferry home and David kindly drives me, with the Brompton on his back seat.  I have 14 minutes to spare and get home in time for 6 hours sleep.  I need to get the 7.15 ferry on Saturday morning.

Ed (L) and Clive (Rt) on the starting blocks
Ed (L) and Clive (Rt) on the starting blocks

All seven of our team report in on Saturday along with Coach Cynthia Borne. Our butterfly swimmers Ron and Jenny win medals in the punishing 100m; I’m surprised to get a bronze medal in the 50 freestyle and Elizabeth, Clive and Ron get silver medals.  We’ve put together a men’s relay team with a combined age of 240-279 years.  We win both the Medley and freestyle 200m relays. Yay!

TAMS team. Back L to Rt David, Ed, Ron & Elizabeth. Front L to Rt Clive, Chris, Jenny & Cynthia
TAMS team. Back L to Rt David, Ed, Ron & Elizabeth. Front L to Rt Clive, Chris, Jenny & Cynthia

In the 50m Backstroke Elizabeth and I both get silver medals and in the 50m Breaststroke, there is a thrilling and close called race between our team-mates Ed and Clive, who are in the same age group. They go for Gold and Silver in that order, while David gets a bronze in his age group. It’s back to the Fly swimmers, Ed, Ron, Jenny and David for more medals followed by me winning gold in the 200m Backstroke.  I know there are no medals for me in the 100m Freestyle as everyone has entered, but I’m next to speedy Ron, two age groups above me. We chase each other up the pool and back.  He beats me by one second.  Apparently our team were jumping and down getting very excited.  It’s all over now but for the mixed Freestyle and Medley relays where we get second and third.  It’s been a fantastic meet and my times are creeping back to where they should be, so I’m well satisfied.