Feast of fitness options for all

PETER GIBBS
Last updated 14:00 10/01/2014

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Birth is an accident, but as far as I'm concerned I had all the luck, being part of the baby boomer generation.

My parents' generation had serious things on their minds - war and the aftermath loomed large.

Sport was something you grew out of. Even rugby players were old by 30. Besides, there weren't many sporting options then.

I grew up in the land of milk and honey, learning to play rugby with the old Rival club down at Trafalgar Park, and learning to swim at Riverside Pool, before moving on to a multitude of places in New Zealand.

At high school in Whangarei, I discovered that I could swim and run quite quickly, but in those days few people utilised those skills once they left their schooling behind.

Nevertheless, those teenage years spent dabbling in competitive sport proved to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

In my 30s, getting pudgy and seeking a wider social horizon, I joined Waimea Harriers. It wasn't long before I discovered a world of sporting events.

Triathlon hadn't yet made its way to New Zealand, but when it did a few years later, I couldn't wait to get involved.

I knew I could swim, although I hadn't done any swimming for 20 years. I'd never cycled competitively, but quickly latched on to the newly formed Moutere Wheelers (now the Tasman Wheelers).

About the same time, while I was still in my 30s, I saw a notice in the Nelson Evening Mail inviting prospective sea swimmers to a race at Tahunanui Beach.

Along with Peter Owen, Phil Howes and three others, I went along, and we had an evening race though some choppy surf. I couldn't have been in a better place or time.

That was to be the beginning of a swim series named after Peter Owen's company, Eyebright.

The Eyebright Series continued for 20 years, with numbers ranging from as few as three or four. By the time Owen decided to call it quits, after 20 years, the average turnout had grown to 42 swimmers.

At a pre-season meeting seven years ago, management of the swims changed, with Peter handing me (with some ceremony) the official whiteboard (still in use) and a box of newspaper clippings.

Under my watch, sponsorship was picked up by Port Nelson, with the management of the event coming under the umbrella of the Nelson Triathlon Club. Weekly attendance grew to more than 150.

After six years, at the end of last season I handed the whiteboard to triathlon club president Dick Bennison, aided by Digby Kynaston of Port Nelson.

However, the Eyebright connection remains.

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One of the key races of the year has always been the Eyebright Mile. The name has been retained, although now the race is part of the Clements Endurance Series, run by the same team as the Thursday night Port Nelson Series.

Peter Owen still comes along to hand out the prizes and kiss the girls.

The 27th Eyebright Mile takes place on Sunday at 8am. The format hasn't changed - it's a straight-line swim from the Nelson Yacht Club to the beach. The finish is still a run up the beach to the tide mark.

The start is always on the high tide (at 8.01am this Sunday). The distance is actually two kilometres, and the record is held by Cadman Irvine, who swam the distance in 23min 21sec in 1993.

There's also a shorter option of 1300 metres, from the Richardson St steps.

Sea swimming has become a global phenomenon. Many Nelson swimmers compete in the national State Ocean Swim Series, and there's bound to be a big turnout at Saturday's Tata Beach swim in Golden Bay.

Entries and information about swimming in Nelson at nelsonseaswims.co.nz and adventureswims.co.nz.

- Nelson

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