“Every swim is hard and no fun,” recalls Dieter Loeliger who swims the annual Rottnest Channel Swim in order to keep fit physically and mentally.
“I was an asthmatic, still am, the swim can help with my asthma to a degree.”
Since the inception of the race in 1991, more than 16,500 relay swimmers and over 1,000 solo swimmers have crossed the Rottnest Channel. But none older than the Western Australian who will be 80 years old for the 2013 event.
A celebrated and prolific member of the Half Century Club, Loeliger has done the 19.7 km Rottnest Channel Swim 14 times. It is a record that is remarkable for anyone, but entirely unique for a man entering his 9th decade on earth. It is one thing to swim daily in a pool, but to be nearing 80 years old and swimming a rough water 19.7 km ocean swim off the coast of Western Australia is an entirely different achievement of grit, determination and a healthy lifestyle.
At the awards presentations in 2006, he was asked if he would do a solo again. He said that unless everyone sang Happy Birthday, he would not. Several thousand people obliged and he has continued his remarkable streak:
– Finished in 8:04 in 2012 at 79 years
– Finished in 9:02 in 2011 at 78 years
– Finished in 9:21 in 2010 at 76 years
– Finished in 6:18 in 2007 at 74 years
– Finished in 7:45 in 2006 at 72 years
– Finished in 6:06 in 2005 at 71 years
– Finished in 6:30 in 2004 at 71 years
– Finished in 8:31 in 2003 at 70 years
– Finished in 6:49 in 2002 at 69 years
– Finished in 6:08 in 2001 at 68 years
– Finished in 5:55 in 2000 at 67 years
– Finished in 6:51 in 1999 at 65 years
– Finished in 6:54 in 1998 at 65 years
– Finished in 6:07 in 1996 at 62 years
Fellow Australian marathon swimmer Chris Palfrey recalls two early instances where their paths initially crossed.
“During my first Rottnest Channel Swim in 2000, halfway across the channel, the steering on my escort boat failed. After spending a fair bit of time treading water hoping they could fix the problem which they eventually didn’t, the choices were either end my swim or try to hook up with another boat. Even though I had lost a lot of time, I was determined to finish. It was decided that I would swim over to another boat, which I did. I explained my dilemma and the skipper said he was fine to guide both swimmers. He left the kayaker to guide us for a few minutes whilst he went to my boat to pick up my drinks.
I had no idea who the other swimmer was. He was slower than I, but he had a really efficient and steady stroke and ground out the kilometres like a machine. We swam side by side for the next 2½ hours. And whilst we didn’t exchange a single word, we seemed to develop a bond, which is unique to open water swimmers.
At the 18 km mark, my boat reappeared. The coast guard had towed them to Rotto, where with the right tools, they were easily able to fix the steerage problem. After a quick chat and getting my drinks back, I rejoined my proper crew. The other swimmer, meanwhile had got a lead of about 50 meters on me. Now close to the finish, I was determined to catch him back up and thought I would easily do so. But whether it was the cold I was feeling or muscle stiffness, there was no way I could bridge that gap, and he ended up finishing 1½ minutes ahead of me. As I met up with him at the finish, it was only then I found out his name (Dieter), and very surprisingly that he was 67 years of age.
The next time we met, Dieter was in the 2001 swim. We didn’t really bump into him on race day, as there are very large numbers of people in this race, competing as solos and teams. The day after the race, we hired bicycles, and decided to have a leisurely day riding around the island. With 30 plus kilometres of undulating hills in the Perth heat, it was anything but leisurely toward the end, although the scenery of the bays was worth the effort.
We stopped at the cape at the very western edge of the island, hoping to see some whales or other marine life and who should we see arrive a couple of minutes after us? Dieter! He had had another strong swim the day before and was now on a jaunt round the island. Just what you would do at age 68, the day after a 20K swim. We finished the ride with him, stopping here and there for a swim in the bays, and have been friends ever since.”
Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association