John Sheely: Ocean swimmer going the distance

ENDURANCE: Koroit's John Sheely completed the long swim from Rottnest Island to Cottesloe Beach in February. Picture: Morgan Hancock
ENDURANCE: Koroit's John Sheely completed the long swim from Rottnest Island to Cottesloe Beach in February. Picture: Morgan Hancock

John, let’s talk about your swim in February. How many kilometres is the swim from Rottnest Island to Cottesloe Beach?

I think it’s 19.7km, but I swam 21km. It took me 6 hours 10 minutes.

I started the swim at 5.55am. I had to hire a boat and skipper plus a spotter and I needed a paddler.

The boat sets the course while Wendy Freudenstein follows the boat in her role as the paddler. I swam beside Wendy.

She kept feeding me every 45 minutes – each time you have something to eat you just tread water.

I had a jam sandwich and Turkish delight for snacks.

I only wore my pair of Speedos when I did the swim – no wetsuit.

I had a strange feeling after that swim, as I would always put through a call to mum just to have a chat.

I wanted to phone her again, but sadly she was hit by a car and died last October. I felt really weird after that swim.

John, did you do much training before the ocean swim?

I was averaging 25 to 28km training a week to prepare for the swim.

I swam four days a week training between August to September and increased on that number as it got closer to the swim.

A big part of my training revolved around swimming from the Warrnambool Surf Club out to the pavilion and then back to the surf club, swimming with the Saturday morning ocean swimmers including Jayson Lamb and Jenny Dowie and the Warrnambool Masters Swimming Club.

When did you start ocean swimming?

It would have been in 2014 when I joined the Warrnambool Masters Swimming Club.

The first ocean swimming event I took part in was the Shipwreck Coast Series at Port Fairy. I then competed at Warrnambool and Port Campbell.

It’s a great local series and by the end of that initial series I was hooked on ocean swimming.

I’ve taken part in 35 ocean swimming events since 2014. I’ve swum 10km in Sydney and even took part in an event in Fiji when we were on holidays.

Undoubtedly you must love ocean swimming to have competed in 35 events. What makes it so special to you?

I think it’s all about the freedom and the peace of mind.

I’ve found the ocean swimming very relaxing and it keeps you extremely fit.

John, you said you were born and educated  at Caringbah in New South Wales. How did it come around that you now work in Warrnambool?

I was working as the head gardener at a horse stud in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

It was terribly dry up there and it was tough work trying to keep things looking good when there is no rain.

It was 12 years ago and I saw on the web that Warrnambool City Council were looking for a head gardener at the Warrnambool Botanical Gardens.

I’ve got to be honest with you, I never knew where Warrnambool was – so I did a bit of research and found there was a very good rainfall down this way and I thought I should put in for the job.

The rest is history, I put in for the job; got it and I’m still here after 12 years.

I love the job and the people that I work with, Ros Raymond and Murtle McLeod, are great people.

I’ve got no regrets and I would say my family has none either – it’s been a great move for us.

I just love the climate down here. We might get a 40 degree day over the summer and the next day it’s back to 19 degrees.

I operate under the theory that you can put a coat on when it gets a bit cool.

John, being the head gardener at the Warrnambool Botanical Gardens you would have a few facts and figures about the gardens that many locals are unaware of. Can you give us some information about your work place?

Yes. The Warrnambool Botanical Gardens have been there for 152 years. They’re on 20 acres. It’s a very peaceful work space.

The gardens are a credit to the people who had the foresight to put them there so many years ago.

I would have to say the gardens are a hidden treasure in Warrnambool.

There would be a lot of locals who have never visited the Botanical Gardens which is a shame, but in saying that we get lots of visitors who go there just to walk around and enjoy the surroundings.

There’s 570 trees in Warrnambool’s Botanical Gardens. The staff don’t say they maintain the gardens, we just say we manage them.

Over the years I’ve noted that various people get married in Warrnambool’s Botanical Gardens. Do they need any permits or paperwork to get married in the gardens?

There is an application process which you have to go through with the Warrnambool City Council.

There are no fees attached. People also hold children parties and reunions at the gardens, but they must register with the city council before having any event.

John, away from the ocean swimming. Have you been involved with any other sports?

I had played cricket for a side called Bowthorne, which is just outside of Maitland, when we lived in New South Wales.

My fortunes with the bat and ball are not worth recording here. 

We lived in Warrnambool for one year before we decided to call Koroit home.

Koroit offers a very peaceful setting and is only 15 minutes to Warrnambool.

I decided to play cricket with Koroit and played in division 3. I made a couple of 50s in my three years with the club.

I would say the best two things are it’s a great social club and I took great delight in watching Des Douglas bat for the Saints.

I was fortunate to partner him on a few occasions and watched in amazement at this ability to make runs so easily.