Blind Faith In The Open Water

Blind Faith In The Open Water

Blind Faith In The Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Narelle Simpson is a swimming coach for athletes with special needs. She is on the board of directors of the NSW Council for the Disabled and on the Committee and board of directors for the NSW Blind Swimmers Association. She also trains James Pittar, a member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, who has done a number of marathon swims around the world including the English Channel, Molokai Channel, Catalina Channnel, Rottnest Channel Swim and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.

Simpson and Pittar work together in the open water with a unique whistle technique.

They work like finely-tuned partners completely in synch in a relationship based on genuine trust due to James’ lack of sight.

Matt Logan has been kayaking for Pittar for years. He describes the relationship. “Kayaking for James is different to kayaking for a sighted person.” “On the water, it is blind faith. James is blind and has complete faith that I’ll be there to guide him in the shortest possible line to achieve a successful swim. My faith is in his capacity to keep swimming irrespective of bluebottle stings, seaweed wrap around his neck, calm seas, big seas.”

The sincerity is pure.

There are no lies. We never try and sugar coat a situation for James. He knows how long he has been in the water. He knows how long it should take him. He knows how he is feeling. We encourage James all the time, when he needs a kick up the bum for slacking off, we stop him and tell him there and then. We don’t wait for the next break, we get straight onto it. This enables us to keep him going at a high leave for a longer period of time. Or it enables us to get on top of any issues he might be experiencing sooner.

The hardest swim I did with James was the 2003 Rottnest Channel Swim. It was the year that they delayed the start by an hour. The conditions were deteriorating and they started the race. The other crew Bill ‘Sticks’ Tricker brought James off the beach. From the beach, there was hundreds of boats sitting idling, spewing out boat fumes, in large swells. I was both sick and happy to get into the kayak.

Sticks and I trying to swap after about 90 minutes, but Stick was unable to catch James back up. James was just swimming off with the current in the wrong direction. I was getting sick on the boat again and Sticks preferred being there, so we swapped and stayed that way until the end of the swim. I think it was about 13 hours.

That day James was punching through the waves and coming out the back of the waves with his hips to the tips of his hands clear out of the water. Unfortunately, since he was trying to grip the water, he was rolling and turning every time this happened. The times he wasn’t clear out the back of the wave, he was headlong into the next wave and wasn’t able to hear the whistle. I was blowing the whistle all the time.

James finished and walked out of the water. I had to be helped out, unable to walk, my hips were buggered. This was my first open water swimming event. I thought that they were all crazy. That is saying something as I come from an ultra marathon kayaking background

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Steven Munatones