17-year-old endurance swimmer Caitlin O’Reilly has become just the third person ever to swim across Lake Taupo and back – and all in the name of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
The university student completed the 80.4km double crossing in 28 hours and two minutes, without taking any breaks outside the water.
The only previous double Taupo swims were completed by Kiwi marathon swimmers Philip Rush in 1985 and Sandra Blewett in 1986.
Caitlin used the achievement as an opportunity to fundraise for the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and has so far raised more than $6,500.
The native Aucklander chose to donate to the Chopper Appeal because she’s studying Health Science at AUT, aiming to go into Paramedicine, with the goal of saving lives one day.
“I’m super stoked with how the whole swim went. I expected it to be a lot more painful than it was.
“I’m exhausted though and every muscle of my body is really sore,” she said.
So, what’s her secret to mental endurance during such a challenge?
“During the first 20km of the swim, I tried to relax and not think about it. I just got my stroke into a rhythm.
“But once it got dark, it got harder and harder and I realised I had to turn around and go back.
“Mentally I was struggling and my shoulder was niggling. There’s always moments where I have little tantrums during a swim and think I can’t do it, but at the same time I know I’ll come out the other side.
“Once I got past the middle point of the lake on the way back and knew I only had 20km left, I knew I could do it.
“I tell myself that I’ve done all the work and I know I can make it. I tell myself to be patient and it’s going to take time but I can make it. My supporters helped me, my parents for example and I had friends pass by on jet skis and my mentor was in the assisting boat,” she said.
Caitlin has been swimming since she was a toddler - competitively since she was nine. She crossed Cook Strait at the age of 12 – the youngest ever female to cross.
At 16 she was the youngest person to achieve the New Zealand Triple Crown, having completed the crossings of Foveaux Strait, Cook Strait and Lake Taupo.
On such endurance swims she is only fueled by energy gels, lollies and energy drinks.
“We stopped every 40 minutes for energy gels and Powerade, but without touching the boat. I was just treading water. There was no assist, no hanging off the boat during the double crossing,” she said.
“I ate pizza all the way home after the swim though. I think we stopped at every second McDonald’s we passed on the way home to Auckland too.”
One of her mentors is long distance swimmer Philip Rush, who completed the double crossing in January 1985 and has inspired Caitlin to continue to push the boundaries.
“Phil has been with me for all my ultra-marathon swims. He talks to me every week and talks to my Auckland coach too.
“Everything I know is because of him, he teaches me how to stay focused, determined, consistent and not to give up.”
The teenager says she’s also inspired by American swimmer Sarah Thomas, who has completed four consecutive crossings of the English Channel. And by New Zealand open water swimmer Kim Chambers, who is the sixth person in the world to complete the Ocean’s Seven swimming challenge.
So, what’s next for Caitlin?
She also wants to complete the Ocean’s Seven – a marathon swim across seven open water channels.
These include the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, New Zealand’s Cook Strait, Hawaii’s Moloka’i Channel, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel in Southern California, Japan’s Tsugaru Strait and the Strait of Gibraltar crossing between Europe and Morocco.
She will travel to California this August and Japan later in the year to commence training for that challenge.
Her advice to other young girls, or anyone looking for inspiration is to “just stay determined, follow your dreams and never give up”.
You can find Caitlin’s fundraising page for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter by clicking on this link, to donate.