Precocious. Fast. Fearless.
Those are apropo adjectives to describe Tamara Bruce of Australia who retired prematurely at the age of 23.
“I threw a tantrum at my dad because I wanted to swim the pre-FINA World Championships 25 km swim in the Swan River in Perth, but the only way my dad could stop me from going on and on was to say he’d enter me in the first marathon swim when I was old enough to compete,” recalled Bruce about her stat in the sport.
While the Sydney Harbour 30 km race and was her first taste of marathon swimming, Bruce established her legacy in the 19.7 km Rottnest Channel Swim.
Bruce was the overall winner at the 1992 Rottnest Channel Swim at the age of 14. Not only did the precocious swimmer beat hundreds of more experience swimmers in the Western Australian classic, she also established a new overall course record.
Bruce re-established the female record at the 1993 Rottnest Channel Swim in a blazing time of 4 hours 10 minutes, a record that remarkably still stands today.
A year later in 1994 as a 17-year-old, Bruce swam the English Channel in 7 hours 53 minutes which remains tied for the 14th fastest crossing in history (out of 2,256 solo swims).
Over the course of her career, she went on to complete a total of 10 solo crossings in the Rottnest Channel Swim, one duo crossing, and two team crossings:
*1992 – 4 hours 13 minutes
*1993 – 4 hours 10 minutes
*1994 – 4 hours 50 minutes
*1995 – 4 hours 50 minutes
*1996 – 4 hours 33 minutes
*1997 – 4 hours 42 minutes
*2001 – 5 hours 40 minutes
*2002 – 6 hours 7 minutes
*2003 – 8 hours 17 minutes
*2004 – 5 hours 44 minutes
Bruce describes her accomplishments and achievements in the open water:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What attracted you to the water (open and pool)?
Tamara Bruce: I was a water baby, the youngest child of eight siblings. I was in the water as soon as possible with my father being a swim coach and having his learn-to-swim and coaching business; I never had a choice to be involved in swimming. I loved every minute of being involved in the pool swimming, surf lifesaving as a nipper at 4, some water polo and swim thru’s, swimming in the river and ocean, but my love of anything was all started when I was very young.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What drove you to your first marathon swim? What was your time and place?
Tamara Bruce: My drive to swim my first marathon came two years earlier when I had a argument with my father-coach because I wanted to swim the 25 km pre-World Championship race in 1989-90 because my sister and some fellow training mates were entered. My dad had to stop me going on and on so he informed me that as soon as I was age eligible to compete in a marathon he would enter one for me to compete. Sydney Harbour International Invitational Marathon was the first race I could enter. However, it was an invitation-only race and my dad didn’t believe I would be selected as the best open water swimmers around the world were competing and I had no experience, but race organisers took a chance and I loved that it was such a great race for my first marathon.
The Sydney Harbour race was from Manly to Darling Harbour and then back – and had every open water condition, calm at the halfway point around Darling Harbour before heading back to Manly which was the rough element as you swam past the Sydney Heads, the 2 km wide entrance to the Harbour from the ocean which made for a hard start and finish.”
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was your most difficult swim?
Tamara Bruce: The 1995 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships 25 km marathon swim in s Atlanta, Georgia where I swam with a very high temperature and felt like I was swallowing razors blades. However, I never told my dad or the team manager. They did suspect [something] I’m sure, but I knew we needed to have all members swimming to be eligible to win the team event. My support boat with my dad-coach kept breaking down also that day. Nothing was going right for me; however, Australia still won the team gold, but it was a very hard day.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was your most satisfying swim?
Tamara Bruce: The Sydney Harbour International Invitational Marathon. This may surprise some people, but the saying of “never meet your hero” plays a big role as I had a very, very prominent and famous Australian swimmer say to me at a dinner presentation the night before the 30 km swim that she didn’t know why I was there and I wouldn’t possibly make the distance because I had no experience and I shouldn’t turn up to the start. I was 14 years old and devastated. I had never met this person and I had admired and looked up to this person since I was little. However, my dad though extremely angry, knew how to motivate me and bring out my tenacious spirit to swim strong, stay on task, and to accomplish what we set out to achieve.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What were your scariest moments during your open water swims?
Tamara Bruce: My fellow swimmer David O’Brien would know this, but we had an Australian navy submarine pop up in a Rottnest Channel crossing. It caused us to be pulled under. I was not as close as David, but it certainly was a scary moment.
At the Rottnest Channel Swim in 2003, over half the field didn’t start due to weather and conditions and over half of the field that did start didn’t finish. Yes, the race should have been cancelled, but wasn’t. I have never been scared in open water of sharks ever; however, because of the weather, my boat could not get anywhere near me except to pass my feeds to me and had to move away quickly. Also, a paddler just was not possible due to the conditions so that swim was the first time I felt unsafe. I did finish, but it was long day mentally and physically.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Was your father always on your escort boats?
Tamara Bruce: My father-coach was always on my support boat even when home funds were low. He always found the money to accompany me on my swims. There were only two swims when I had already ‘retired’ that I said he should go on the support boat with one of our new open water swimmers and solely because I was just swimming for the fun of it; not as a full-on competitor and his experience would help guide her swim more than supporting me in my fun crossing.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When and why did you retire?
Tamara Bruce: I retired when I was 22-23 years old after a car accident. I had hurt my shoulder and lower back and it was just too difficult to train at the time. I had been coaching and teaching swimming with our family business since I was 17 and had been making that transition for many years. Teaching and coaching juniors was becoming my priority more every summer season.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is your involvement in open water swimming now (besides your work on the IMSHOF committees)?
Tamara Bruce: I’ve been coaching since I was 17 alongside my dad. I really started looking after our club open water swimmers and national age swimmers when my dad’s involvement on Australian pool teams grew with some of his swimmers which had him away a lot more. I was also a coach-handler at the 2000 World Open Water Swimming Championships in Honolulu, Hawaii and a manager at the 2001 FINA World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. My passion for open water has never waned and I would dearly love to see Australia get back to podium finishes at elite level and to also see the continuation of the growth of open water swimming across the world.
Bruce continues on with her involvement in marathon swimming as a committee member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, an institution that selected her as an Honour Swimmer in its Class of 2017. Bruce joins a stellar group of swimmers, administrators, escort pilots and organisations that will be inducted and honored on April 22 in Windsor, England at the 2017 International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
And the third generation of Bruce’s have entered the open water world. “My son Bay is eight and swam his first open water race of 500 meters in Rottnest.”
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