Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Norman conquers Catalina Channel

By Jamie Lowe

Local high school teacher Brenda Norman has claimed the Australian Triple Crown after conquering the Catalina Channel on the weekend.

With the support of the whole Edward River region behind her, Norman successfully completed the 32km swim in 10 hours, 36 minutes and 18 seconds.

At 2.09am on Saturday, Australian Eastern Standard time — or 9.09am Friday, October 4 Los Angeles time — the 38 year-old physical education teacher reached the shores to officially complete the swim.

She smashed her own goal of completing the swim in under 12 hours, but also achieved her main goal of spreading the message of her charity Channel 4 Change.

Channel 4 Change was established to fund programs run by the Deniliquin Mental Health Awareness Group, specifically aimed at dealing with youth mental health in the community.

Norman uses her channel swimming attempts as a vehicle to push and promote the charity, with plenty of programs now in place around Deniliquin to help tackle the issue.

The completion of the swim saw Norman complete the Australian Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, having already completed the 20km Rottnest Channel Swim in February and the 34km English Channel swim in August last year.

While making the most of her time in USA, Miss Norman still found the time to contact the Pastoral Times while she was at Disneyland yesterday.

‘‘I felt much better than what I felt like after the English Channel swim,’’ she said.

‘‘My whole body was aching after the swim last year, but this year was much different.

‘‘I actually went into the swim with a few problem areas, with my ribs and hip flexor both quite sore.

‘‘I worked on my mobility and did plenty of physio to get it right but it was still bothering me.

‘‘I was hoping it would get better once I warmed up, but there were still some issues.

‘‘I hopped into the water and just swam, and I ended up feeling better when I got out than how I felt when getting in.

‘‘The only pain I felt after the swim was in my wrist. I think I sprained it, but it’s not sore now.

‘‘Last year I had an average stroke rate of 64 per minute. This year I started at 77 strokes a minute with 68 strokes being my lowest speed. That was my highest speed during the English Channel swim.”

In what was a special moment for Norman, she was able to complete the swim with the support of her training partner Richard Jones, who completed the Catalina Channel swim himself just two days prior to her attempt.

While she didn’t need a pace swimmer, the physical education teacher just wanted to help give Jones a ‘‘nicer’’ experience in the channel.

‘‘Richard was seasick during his attempt so he didn’t get to enjoy it as much,’’ Norman said.

‘‘I told the paddler I wanted Richard to join for the last mile. It was a spur of the moment decision, I didn’t need him psychologically but wanted to share the moment with him.

‘‘It was also helping with my message on mental health. The whole thing is a journey and knowing you have that support makes everything easier.

‘‘Without him I wouldn’t have been as prepared as I was.‘‘I was a part of his support crew and was able to learn from his attempt.

‘‘When training together in Melbourne it was always a tradition for us after six hours to go and have a sausage roll. When I hit the six hour mark during my attempt I yelled out that he owed me one.

‘‘I knew at this point I was well past the halfway mark as well, so it gave me confidence that I was closer to finishing.’’

While the gruelling swim has many similarities to the English Channel swim, Norman said there were plenty of different rules in the Catalina swim.

During her swim on Friday, she had to be 30 yards, about 28m, away from the boat, as well as complete the majority of the swim in complete darkness.

‘‘In my English Channel swim I was right next to the boat and my support crew were able to pass down food and drink to me,’’ Norman said.

‘‘We had to be better prepared for this swim as I had two kayakers, who swapped over every four hours, guiding me.

‘‘This meant that we had to have the kayaker take four hours worth of my food and drink.

‘‘Seeing Richard’s swim gave me a big advantage for my attempt. I knew I was going to be out there for at least 10 hours, so I was able to plan out my meals for every 40 minutes and how much the paddler needed to bring with him.

‘‘I also got to meet all the boat crew, kayakers and observers on Richard’s crossing as they were the same people involved with my crossing.

‘‘I got to chat to them and get to know them. The main kayaker knew that I struggle with occupying my mind out there so he gave me riddles on the way to help keep things interesting.

‘‘I was also in complete darkness for a lot of the swim with no spotlight to help guide me.

‘‘It was about seven hours of darkness before the sun started to rise.

‘‘To see the sunrise was cool. It felt like hours between when I first saw the sun starting to come up before it actually made it all the way up and have the destination in sight.

‘‘The experience of the swim was like nothing else. I was swimming among marine life and swam through bioluminescent algae.

‘‘When you put your hands through it it just sparkles with light.

‘‘It was like a light flickered with every bubble I blew when swimming. I wouldn’t have experienced that during the day.’’

Norman celebrated her successful crossing with her crew by going out for dinner on the Friday night.

‘‘Richard and I also took a trip on a ferry to Catalina Island a day after my cross,’’ she said.

‘‘It was nice to be able to talk about the swim with someone who completely understood what it took to achieve the crossing.

‘‘We did the same swim at a similar pace, yet had such a different experience.’’

She now plans to spend a couple of weeks overseas, with some sight-seeing and another swim on her mind.

‘‘We’re going to go to Yosemite National Park to go hiking (today),’’ she said.

‘‘Next week we have our Alcatraz (recreational) swim, which I’m looking forward to.’’