Distance swimmer heads for open waters

source: www.stuff.co.nz  by Peter Lampp

Perhaps if Manawatu had an open expanse of water, like a recreational lake, swimmers on the rise like Bridget Maher might not feel compelled to flee to Auckland.

She has spent five years in Palmerston North clocking up huge amounts of training at the Kiwi West Aquatics' pool and studying sport and exercise science.

Now as a dedicated open-water swimmer who this year made her international debut, she's off north to be closer to her coach, Judith Wright, at the Waterhole Swim Club in Auckland. Wright specialises in distance swimming.

This year Maher represented New Zealand in the Australian open water championships, won a bronze medal at the New Zealand Open-world championships qualifying meet in Auckland in April in the 1500 metres race and was fifth in the 800m.

She was 10th at the Australian championships in Penrith and could easily have been named Manawatu swimmer of the year.

"The Penrith rowing venue was perfect, like being in a pool," she said.

At 22, she is one of the older swimmers in the province and didn't start swimming until the mature age of 16, in Masterton.

With a lot of help from her parents, she still retains a keen edge for her latest discipline.

"That's probably why I'm still going. They tell me I haven't peaked yet," she said. "Swimming kind of takes over your life; a lot of hours in the pool and a big gym regime as well."

Maher clocks up 16-17km a day in the pool, 80-100km a week with 5.30am starts and back again at nights.

"It's kind of a stress relief, but I do it because I like it," she said.

Occasionally, it gets boring but music being played around the complex helps. Until two years ago she knew little about open-water swimming, a discipline dominated in New Zealand by former Manawatu and Kiwi West swimmer Cara Baker. The Queensland-based swimmer is currently at the world championships in Shanghai.

As a youngster, Maher tried all of the "land sports" but they weren't for her.

"I was one of those kids who had to be bribed to get out of the water."

Early in her career as a freestyler, Maher soon realised she excelled at 800m and 1500m.

"It was just the thing I was good at," Maher said. "I'm a real newbie to the sport.

"It took me a few years to realise that's what I wanted to do. Now I want to see how far I can take it, ultimately the Olympic or Commonwealth Games."

By trying open water swimming, she found herself splashing 10km through a lake near Rotorua to finish third. That was followed by a fifth in a 5km swim at Lake Taupo and she endured what she said were horrible conditions in Wellington Harbour.

The sport is growing. When Maher first ventured into it, there were only about six women; now races attract up to 30.