A 50th birthday swim

By Seti Afoa 23 March 2016, 12:00AM

When the Upolu-Savai’i swim was first announced, Todd Pritchard had just returned from holidaying in Samoa with his sons.

There is a nice picture of him taken in Salelologa sitting pretty on the departing ferry with his back to the very lagoon where he will finish his Upolu-Savaii Swim in two weeks’ time - on April 7th. 

The epiphany for the adventure, came a few days later when the Swim was officially announced.

And given the imminence of his 50th birthday, the connection with the holiday, the serenity of riding the ferry to Savaii and back across Apolima Strait, and having his picture taken all relaxed and drinking a cool coconut at the finish line, without him knowing it – all led to the decision to register for the biggest event of his life. 

Todd will celebrate his 50th birthday on 9th April, two days after his big swim. 

“When the swim was announced it was about a week after I had returned from Samoa, I was there holidaying with my boys. I noticed it coincided with my turning 50 and was inspired to consider this might be something I could do to challenge myself,” he said.

“Another factor is I struggle with other long distance swims available as I’m naturally lean without much insulation. The Samoa Apolima Strait Crossing was a good fit for me.”

Todd was also inspired by the test swim in August last year across to Savaii. Then, Mike Cochrane and Rosie Sharman made the attempt in August and made it across, but not without encountering a few challenges in the swim. 

Todd, by day is a GP in the Auckland CBD with City Med. His special interest is diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. He is a product of New Zealand. He was born in Palmerston North and was schooled around the country where his father worked at various places.

His secondary schooling was at two of New Zealand’s well known schools, Napier Boys High School and Palmerston North Boys High School.

He did well enough there to be accepted into the Auckland Medical School where he began surgical training that has led to his Specialist area in Skin Cancer Treatment. In the end however, he settled for General Practice work to this day. 

Todd’s surgical background has stood him well. He developed an interest in Skin Cancer Treatment. And in 1994, he was diagnosed with Melanoma on the left thigh, which was caught early and excised as a thin lesion. Twenty years on there has been no recurrence. But he did have another scare four years ago when he had an in situ Melanoma removed from his back. 

“New Zealand has the world’s highest incidence and death rate from this serious form of cancer. Unfortunately it can strike younger individuals with devastating consequences. Early detection is our best protection. As such I’m proud to be supporting Melanoma New Zealand as a charity to raise money by doing this swim.”

“My goal is to further my skills and knowledge in the area of skin cancer and assist where ever I can to help raise awareness and reduce the impact of this illness.”

Todd was a good swimmer in his younger years but a persistent ear infection put a halt on competitive swimming when he was a teen. He only returned to swimming in recent years and is enjoying the full array of swims available throughout New Zealand. 

Since returning to swimming, the longest race he has done is 12.5km long course in Taupo. He did that well enough without too much training. 

However the point of no return in the Upolu-Savaii Swim was when Todd completed his qualifying swim in early January. Every swimmer has to qualify, to ensure they will be going well enough to reach Savaii before the cut off time. That time is 4 in the afternoon. 

The qualifying swim is a sub-four hour 10km swim to be completed three months out from the start date. Todd did that in Auckland on January 7th in cold and blustery conditions. He was well within the qualifying time, completing the 10km swim in just under three hours. 

Training for the big swim since has intensified. He has been swimming 20-30km each week including several pool sessions of up to 7kms at a time. He has also completed two 13km swims since January. 

The last two weeks of preparations will see three longer pool sessions. Todd is also planning on swimming a 15km stretch ten days prior to the big race. From there he will ease off all intensive training and focus on technique with short easy swims in the sea and pool, and focusing on getting in the right head space for the swim itself.

In facing the biggest swim of his life, Todd has a few concerns. The Melanoma scare is one. His race starts at 6am so he can avoid the late afternoon sun on his back. All going well, he should be at Salelologa by 2pm. His other big concern is not finishing.  

“Not finishing is going to be in the back of any swimmers mind, but not really worth thinking about it. I’m planning to keep on swimming until I hit land. It’s more about filling my mind with all the way to overcome any obstacle. That’s the challenge.” 

“This is a big thing to do and it’s a challenge that has been laid in my path and I have accepted it.” 

Unlike other swimmers lining up for the big swim, Todd does not have a coach. He is relying totally on the things he has learned from Ocean Swim legends such as Adam Walker of Britain and Brent Foster of Auckland.

He is also close friends with Mike Cochrane. Mike has been helping a lot with personal knowledge of the Apolima Strait having swum it in the test swim last August. Mike is also the Technical expert for the swim. 

Todd has a Samoa connection. He became good friends with local doctor Satu Viali during Medical School (1984-1999). Todd was a groomsman in Viali and his wife Sialei’s wedding. They met when Todd was in Samoa last year. His other close friend, Dr James Hamill is a regular visiting Paediatric surgeon to Samoa. 

Having that link to Samoa plus his passion for swimming, Todd gravitated even more to Samoa when he and I connected a few years ago.

Facebook is a great community forum. Todd seeing all the updates form Samoa, the swims, the Triathlons, running events and more – it heightened his interest in competing one day in a swim here. He just did not know that it would be this soon, and in the longest swim in the Southern hemisphere. 



Distance, 22.3km

Swimmers, Todd Pritchard, Bronwen Burmester, Abby Armstrong, Kate Sinclair, Phillip Ryan. Team Samoa

Race Day, Thursday, 7th April 

Reserve Days, 8 & 8 April 

Organisation, Samoa Events 

Race Director, Seti Afoa 


Todd’s Team 

Swim captain, Rosie Sharman

Kayak, Daryl Baker 

By Seti Afoa 23 March 2016, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

Upgrade to Premium

Subscribe to
Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device.

Ready to signup?