Paul Fallon managed a nervous smile before dropping into the sea.
The paraplegic was tackling his first sea-training session, ahead of a planned swim from Kapiti Island to Waikanae Boating Club.
With flotation devices strapped around his legs and hand paddles, Mr Fallon, 30, swam a third of the distance – 2.5 kilometres yesterday as a run-up to swimming up to 7km between the island and mainland to raise funds for Ariel Community Care. The February 18 tide-dependent swim is to raise funds for vocational training for disabled people.
Sitting at the water's edge in his wheelchair looking out across the glistening sea before yesterday's swim, he admitted he was nervous but determined to do it.
"I'm lucky because I have such a good family, friends and community. There are people with much worse injuries and environments than mine. I want to give something back to the community.".
The thought of sharks did not scare him: "There could be worse ways to go."
A wetsuit prevented him getting too cold and, once a boat dropped him off in the sea, it didn't take long to get going, combining backstroke with freestyle.
"I just concentrated on my breathing and training and got into the groove," he said.
The biggest hurdle was not knowing how far he had gone because there were no landmarks.
Friend Jeremy Seamark, who established Ariel Community Care after his disabled daughter, Ariel, died last year, has been training with Mr Fallon over the past four months. He swam with his friend yesterday but cannot accompany him for the full swim next month because he has to have knee surgery.
"His attitude blows me away. I cannot complain about my sore knee around him because it can be fixed. Here is a man in a wheelchair who plays wheelchair rugby and basketball. He is an inspiration to others," he said. "He is a modest man, a real hero. I tip my hat to him."
Swimming pool attendants who had watched Mr Fallon flip over from backstroke to freestyle while training had been "gobsmacked".
"They think he is a machine."
Mr Fallon demonstrated his modesty after completing yesterday's swim: "It was just the first step. It was a team effort – me, Jeremy and Sid the boat driver."
- © Fairfax NZ News