Spontaneous applause echoed around Anakiwa as a wet-suited swimmer in a pink cap neared the jetty.
Cheers rang out across the Grove Arm as he emerged dripping from the water, feeling solid ground under his feet for the first time in 10 days.
After a makeshift finishing tape was crossed, a traditional Maori reception with speech, song and the presentation of a taonga signalled the completion of an inspirational journey by Marlborough teenager George Glover.
Inspired last year by the words and deeds of Kiwi free diver William Trubridge and Ross Edgley, the first man to swim around mainland Great Britain, the 17-year-old Marlborough Boys’ College student and accomplished pool swimmer decided to use his physical and mental skills to benefit a cause he felt passionately about.
So the “Black Dog Swim” was born, George deciding to swim the length of Queen Charlotte Sound and back to raise funds for and awareness of the I AM HOPE charity.
He pledged to swim approximately 123km, over 10 days, and came up with a possible fundraising target of $50,000.
At around 3pm on Wednesday he waded ashore at the place where he set off from on December 30, slightly weary but delighted as the promised funds soared past $57,000 and recognition for a particularly worthwhile cause skyrocketed.
Amid post-swim celebrations with over 100 well-wishers and supporters, George admitted he had mixed feelings about ticking off the unique achievement.
“Mainly because of the support crew … I’ll obviously see them again but it won’t be in circumstances like this, and that’s the element that’s been really special.”
While the charitable cause was always motivation during the many hours in the water, George said that it was the support crew who were most often on his mind.
“I thought, I’m doing this for the crew and those donating to a great cause – I didn’t want to let them down.
“But that wasn’t too often on my mind because I was loving it, even when it was choppy, it was so much fun.”
He said his support team had made it such a pleasurable experience. “They were able to mitigate any issues and kept me entertained … they were the best part of the swim.
“People like Ross Anderson, Norm Wilson, Dave Edgar, Jon Haack, Glen Richardson, Dan Moore … plus there were so many others, they were all so cool.”
Although George is a competitive pool swimmer, one of the best in the Nelson Marlborough region for the past four years and an age-group silver medallist in the 1500m freestyle at the NZ short course champs, he has limited experience of long-distance ocean swimming.
Consequently, he said his time in the water had been as tough as he had expected.
“That’s why we prepared for it like we did. The training that we put in paid off – we were as prepared as we could have been. The organisation of the swim was very smooth, which was great … everything went to plan.”
To prepare him for the challenge he enlisted the help of local endurance swimmer Edgar, a veteran of many long-distance swims.
Dave was mightily impressed by his charge’s efforts. “It takes resilience, you’ve got to get back in day after day … it’s all good doing big swims but multi-day, stage events are different … it takes a lot of damn hard training and a really good resilient mindset to get through that sort of work every day.”
The experienced Edgar ensured the logistics of spending long hours in the water were taken care of, including proper pre and post-swim nutrition each day. “We also set up half-hour feeding systems and did mouthwash every 90 minutes to coat the lining of his mouth, ensuring he didn’t get ‘salt mouth’.”
Work on George’s ocean swimming technique also paid off, the teen improving rapidly, according to Edgar. “Look at him today, he was smoking … almost like he was doing a 2k open water race or something. For him to be swimming like this at his age is pretty phenomenal.”
It was a proud and emotional time at the finish line for George’s family, his father Ben, mother Susie and three sisters, who were with him every stroke of the way. Ben said, “It’s just been a pretty cool journey. I don’t think we are going to potentially experience anything like this as a family … we are extremely proud of him. It was his idea from the start and I’ve learned quickly that if he says he’s going to do something, he is going to do it.”
“You could call it cantankerous every now and then, but he has certainly got a view and it’s not a stubborn, shallow or selfish view – it’s all-encompassing for people around him, which is pretty special. That’s what I am most proud of … it’s how he views things.”
Although the swim’s financial objective has been surpassed, George stressed that raising funds “wasn’t the main thing”.
“It was about raising awareness and eliminating the stigma around mental health. The money and support for the I AM HOPE charity is a by-product of everyone who has been involved.”
I AM HOPE is a youth and community-focused support group, run by The Key to Life Charity Trust, which promotes positive attitudinal societal change in schools and communities, while funding private care and counselling for young people.
A link to his Give A Little page is below …