COLD waters, mental and physical exhaustion and possibly blue bottle stings is what Southland swimmer Hannah Morgan faces as she takes on the notoriously treacherous waters of Foveaux Strait to raise awareness about mental health.
The former James Hargest College pupil and national swimming champion intends to swim solo from Stewart Island to Bluff next week, with all proceeds raised donated to the Mental Health Foundation and Otago University Students’ Association.
“I am really excited to show how much effort I have put in,” she said.
Hannah has been training since July last year, swimming seven to eight times a week in the swimming pool and ocean, and cross training.
“I don’t think I am ever going to feel fully prepared for it, but, in the circumstances, I have done all I could to prepare.”
She expected her biggest physical challenges would be the cold, with water temperatures expected to be between 12-15degC, and possibly an old shoulder injury, however she said her primary concern would be maintaining a positive mental attitude in the water.
“It’s a great metaphor for the campaign, as I am going to be going through some dark places [in my mind] and dealing with some negative thoughts.”
In order to keep motivated during the swim, Hannah said she would remind herself why she was doing it.
“I hope that will push me through.”
The 21-year-old Otago University law and politics student was driven to raise awareness about mental health after a good friend of hers died two years ago as a result of mental health issues, she said.
“When I originally came to uni I was absolutely taken aback by how many people were struggling with mental health issues.”
Despite mental health issues being a such a big problem in New Zealand, people were not talking about it, she said.
“I realised I needed to make my own change because it wasn’t happening at a higher level.
“I could utilise my own talents as a swimmer to make a change and show how committed I am.”
It had been difficult juggling the demands of her university course with her training, but it was worth giving up a year of her life for something which could potentially change how New Zealanders approached mental health, she said.
“If people are going through really tough times, this is the least I can do to show how much I care.”
As the date drew nearer, more and more people were getting involved, she said.
“I am pleased something like this is bringing people together and bringing awareness to the issue of mental health.”
Oreti Lifesaving Club members and her swim coach Lisa Pankhurst would man an Inflatable Rescue Boat and travel alongside her. A second boat skippered by Peter Leask would have two paramedics and her “cheering squad” on board, and two swimmers who would alternate swimming with her for company. Hannah thanked everyone for their support.
“It’s incredible people who don’t know me can be so involved. My support crew is a prime example of that.”
To date, eight swimmers have conquered Foveaux Strait.
Chloe Harris set the record in 2016, making the estimated 30km crossing in eight and a half hours.
Hannah said she was not focussed on breaking the record, but rather completing the swim within 11 hours.
“Any longer than that and I think I will be getting pretty cold.”
Invercargill’s John van Leeuwen reminisces about his swim across Foveaux Strait in 1963.Photo: Giordano StolleyJohn van Leeuwen was the first person to cross the strait in 1963 in a time of 13 hours, 36 minutes. It took him two attempts. On his first attempt on January 16, 1963, he had been swimming for 10 hours, 45 minutes and was within a kilometre of Stewart Island when he was forced to stop.
Mr van Leeuwen said although the tides had been right, the seas were big. He suffered third degree sunburn on his back during that attempt.
On his second bid on February 7, he completed the swim in 13 hours, 36 minutes. His main challenge the second time was swimming through blue bottles, also known as Portuguese man-o’-war, he said.
The grease he had applied to his body before the swim had protected his arms, legs and torso, but his face and neck were stung “hundreds of times”, the pain of which “drove me up the wall”, he said.
It was the encouragement of his supporters which had motivated him to keep going, he said.
Mr van Leeuwen’s advice to Hannah – “Keep on going… and have a rifle on board in case any big fish come around.” (He had not encountered any sharks on his swim.)