Masters take the plunge for Tony Ryan Memorial swim

LAURIE Laurenson and Sandra Skilbeck swim for the right reasons — to keep fit and for a social outlet.

It was their friendship, developed through the Warrnambool Masters Swimming Club, that led them to achieve what remains the highlight of their careers.

They were part of a four-member team which contested the 2006 Rottnest Channel Swim, a 19.7-kilometre challenge from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island.

“We thought it’d be a challenge to do a 20km swim in a team,” Skilbeck said.

“We actually won it as well. 

“What they do in those events is they combine your ages to put you in a category.”

The team triumphed in the 150-years-plus category, beating 133 others in some of the worst conditions the event has experienced.

“Laurie and I, we both put that as one of those special swims,” Skilbeck said.

A different challenge, and one they are well accustomed to, awaits Laurenson and Skilbeck tomorrow.

They will be among about 200 competitors to take the plunge for the 1.4km Tony Ryan Memorial Bay Swim in Lady Bay.

The event, organised by Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club, is the first leg of the popular Shipwreck Coast Swim Series.

The 1.2km Port Fairy Moyneyana Ocean Swim is on January 4 and the 1.2km Port Campbell Twelve Apostles Plunge is on January 18.

Laurenson, 54, and Skilbeck, 50, are regulars in the series, but neither had signed up for the first leg until late this week. Personal reasons meant they were uncertain if they would even compete, although their mutual support swayed their decisions.

“She’s had a tough year, I’ve had a tough year. We’re doing it because the two of us have been swimming for years with each other,” Laurenson said.

“It was a case of ‘are you going to do it?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Then I’ll go in.’ We encourage each other.”

Laurenson, a Deakin University associate professor, grew up in Perth and South Africa and shifted to Warrnambool in his 30s.

He was a swimmer in his early days before surfing became his priority, although he’s in the pool more than the surf now.

“For me it’s almost like meditating,” he said. 

“I actually like swimming. It’s not an awful lot of effort for me.

“There’s a whole heap of good people who are involved with it. It’s not about the competing, it’s about the participating.”

Skilbeck, a physical education teacher at Warrnambool College, joined the club when she shifted to Warrnambool from Ballarat.

Her father Eddie was a swimming coach and introduced her to the sport, while her mother Thelma still swims at age 86.

“I have a preference to swim in ocean swims. I’ve always supported the local swims and done a few of the other ones down towards Geelong,” she said.

“I like the unpredictable conditions as opposed to a swimming pool where you’re swimming up and down. 

The Tony Ryan Memorial Bay Swim begins at 11am.

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