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Not just a swim….always an adventure and always a story!

We have an oversized picture book of Tasmania sitting on our coffee table and I have turned the
pages of the book many times over the years, viewing the gorgeous pictures. You see my husband, Phil Bowen, was invited from the United States to play water polo for seven months in Hobart, Tasmania 45 years ago. He absolutely loved it…. surfing off Bruny Island and playing water polo.
When I happened to see that there was a swim in the Derwent River, we both became excited. Phil to relive some memories and make sure he had his Cascade lager and Australian fish and chips once again. For me, it was to have an aquatic sightseeing tour down the Derwent River and make sure that I was able to return to the US with at least ten flavors of Cadbury chocolate bars that we do not have in the States from the factory in Hobart. Via a circuitous route in the
marathon swim world, I was put in touch with Val. Immediately I knew that with the hash tag

iswimhappy, it was going to be a fun time.

The planning of a swim is sometimes far more complicated than the swim itself. Travel to Tasmania is an adventure—albeit a good one, and once we arrived in Hobart it far surpassed our expectations. Val was key in suggesting where to swim, restaurants to dine, safe places to swim, and answered all my questions –very patiently. I really appreciated his communication—I promised I would only pester him with emails once every month and a half leading up to the swim and not ask too many stupid swimmer questions.
Before the swim Val showed up at the swim hole—Sandy Bay and I was able to meet some of the Hobart Dolphins and swim with Val. Meeting others with the common interest of swimming is part of the whole marathon swim experience.
The day before the swim my husband and I traveled up to New Norfolk and stayed at an eclectic and quite unique motel called the Junction Inn where we could roll out of bed and onto the boat at 2:30 AM to meet Val and Aaron.
Being involved in marathon swimming for over 45 years, safety is key, my life is in the pilots’ hands. Yes, they make it look easy and there is a lot going on sometimes unbeknownst to the swimmer. I could tell that Val was aware of the safety protocol and what is needed on the boat in case of emergencies. Additionally, since he is an Olympian, I also knew that there would be no fooling around with long feeds and/or any whining because he knows swimmers and what to look for if there was an issue. I felt very safe. Val was always in contact with vessel traffic and
aware of shipping congestion.
I arrived without crew, as my husband has given himself the title of official towel holder, so he is
on land. Val found someone to crew for me…Aaron Ellis who was spot on. I could not have asked for a more perfect crew. Seamless. Many, many thanks to Aaron!
The swim itself was magical. Jump time was at 3AM, so I was able to see a beautiful sunrise. The water was warm, averaging about 19c. I was warned about jumping fish and did get kissed by a few during the night, which lent itself to some speed swimming! There were spots where Val knew where to find the best current and we scooted near the shore for a short bit then wide as needed. He knows the River. Of course, it is always fun to swim under bridges and have something ahead of you for which to aim. For me, when I am given flat water, I try and push the
pace, so I was swimming at a good effort level. I enjoyed looking at the scenery—lush forest in the hills and houses that dotted some of the landscape. The finish of the swim under the impressive Hobart Bridge was spectacular. It reminded me of my first swim under the Golden
Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 1979 …just magnificent.
When a swim is completed, the swimmer still needs to be looked after on the boat ride back to
make sure afterdrop does not become an issue. Val is aware of this, making sure I was bundled up and stayed warm on the short ride back to the harbour. There at the Harbour I was greeted by
Chris and Sue Guesdon and Doug Hughson and was presented with a lovely certificate and medal from the Derwent Big River Swim/Australian Long Distance Swimming Federation… and swag from #iswimhappy. What a beautiful way to end a swim. At the Harbour café we substituted smoothies for beer because Val and Aaron had another swim that evening.
I felt very lucky to have such a good pilot, good crew, good weather and most of all good luck for this swim. Thank you, Val and Aaron, and the welcoming committee at the dock, for giving Phil
and I such a wonderful experience. New memories and friends made!

– Words by Suzanne Heim-Bowen

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