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Oldest Apolima Strait swimmer returns to support others

In the nearly 11 hours it took Jacques de Reuck to swim the Apolima Straight last year, he never once thought about giving up.

Mr de Reuck, at 66 years old, became the oldest person to swim the 22.3 kilometre strait in the annual race last year. He clocked in at 10:45, just four hours behind the record holders time.

Back in Samoa this year to support first time strait swimmer Mike Gillon from New Zealand, Mr De Reuck shared some of his reflections on what it takes to make it over the deep blue sea.

“I think you think about everything except giving up, it didn’t cross my mind even for a second,” he said.

“You have done so much hard work on it, and you are really looking forward to get into this water as soon as possible, you have done enough training.”

For his race last March, Mr de Reuck spent nearly 15 months training and preparing, including heading out to the rough Piha waters near Auckland with surf life saver 55 year-old Linda Collard, who coached him.

Ms Collard returned to Samoa this year to compete herself, and took 13 hours and 20 minutes to swim between Upolu and Savaii.

For Mr de Reuck, the support of an experienced swimmer like Ms Collard made all the difference. She not only exposed him to rougher seas to prepare him for the Apolima Strait, but comforted him the whole way and motivated him.

“The biggest challenge for me was that I was quite scared of the heavy sea, and I was quite anxious about it,” he admitted.

“The only way to do it is with the help of other swimmers who have done it before, and they change your fear into a pleasure.

“It’s difficult to do it on your own, you need someone to make you confident and then you say okay, Jacques, you can do it, we’ll just go to the next buoy.”

By the time he had completed a practice swim in the choppy shallow waters of central Auckland, he felt ready, and more aware of how to swim with the sea, and not against it. He said once he finished the strait swim here in Samoa, he thought he could turn around and go the other way.

“It’s an extremely emotional time when you arrive, you realize you have achieved your goal,” said Mr de Reuck.

“I think the body could handle more. I mean I was exhausted but I think I could probably have turned around and done the same again, not that I wanted to do it.

“But if you put your mind into it I am sure the body could follow.”

In his everyday life, Mr de Reuck is the director of Metal Spray Suppliers New Zealand, the company he founded after learning about metal coating spray in Panama.

“I learned my work on the water, I was a sailor. That’s pretty much where I learned the technology and decided to make a career out of it, I thought it was fascinating,” he said. The spray can be used to repair things that are usually very expensive to replace, saving thousands for industries like the power stations, timber and refineries of New Zealand.

But when he gets in the water, that all disappears, Mr de Reuck said.

“The swimming is the most therapeutic activity you can ever have, it’s like a meditation. I often fall half asleep when I swim,” he said.

“You can go into the water with plenty of challenges in your head, like what you need to resolve in the office, and these challenges are all resolved by the time you come out of the water.”

Mr de Reuck may be the oldest person to tackle this feat, but he doesn’t let it get to his head. He said that if anything, he is looking forward to reaching 70 and swimming with the older crowd. And while he is turning 68 next month, he is not ready to think retirement.

“Retirement is something of the past, isn’t it? What would you retire for if you are doing something which you like?

“If you don’t like what you are doing, you should probably look for something else, and then you probably won’t retire.

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