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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.