Monday, 15 September 2014

Dawn Walker Speaks About the Samoa Swim Series and Her Struggle With Swine Flu

"At the end of July a large group of New Zealand ocean swimmers headed to Samoa to compete in the 3rd Samoa Swim Series (3 races in 3 days) organised by Seti Afoa. I, along with 4 other South City Masters swimmers (Giles Walker, Dan Feist, Deryn McGregor, Nicole Youman) were part of that group. This competition has now become International and is growing in popularity every year. 2014 saw over 150 competitors coming from NZ, Australia and the USA. Local Samoan swimmers also participated for the first time.

We arrived 2 days prior to the 1st race and within 24 hours I had developed a chesty cough and headache. Not thinking too much of it (I am not one to get sick, pull muscles yes, but not sick!) I eagerly looked forward to race 1 (Sails Restaurant Apia), a 4km race as a contingency course in stormy conditions. I put the vomiting and headache during the race down to the choppy conditions but struggled to scramble out of the water at the finish and was advised to see a doctor. Diagnosed with bronchitis and sent away with some antibiotics I was convinced I was going to get better

Race 2, was further a field at Falefa and conditions were perfect. My health was slowly deteriorating and the coughing was more intensive but I was determined to make all 3 races as ultimately that was why I was there. I managed to draft off 2 swimmers most of the way and was satisfied with another 4km finish.

Race 3 the following day was over on the southern side of the island at the stunning Sinalei Reef Resort. Weather conditions again were poor. In my 5 years of competitive open water race 3 was the toughest I have ever done. Strong winds and a driving current meant that swimming on the spot was par for the course. On top of this my respiratory infection had spread to my sinuses and I was struggling to breathe through my nose. I knew I had to complete it to stand a chance of a placing. I finished, taking 1 hour 11 mins to complete the 4km race but I was way down the pack. At the finish I was in tears, knowing something was wrong and frustrated that I felt so sick.

 That evening's prize giving and dinner saw a great show put on by Seti and his team, with local dancers and performers and Miss Samoa to present prizes. A swimmer's final placing is worked out as cumulative times over the 3 races. Remarkably, saved I believe by the first 2 swims, I was awarded 2nd female overall, with Sarah Mortimer coming first.

 The 2nd part of the trip saw many of us heading over to Savaii, Samoa's largest island for some relaxation. A beautiful island that I barely got to appreciate as I continued to struggle with nose bleeds, coughing to the point of chest pain, headaches and fatigue. Samoa has so much to offer that I feel I missed out on but good company meant that I kept good spirits in that 2nd week.

After 10 days in Samoa we returned to NZ and within hours I had developed a chronic middle ear infection on top of the still very present respiratory infection. Within hours I was at my GPs and sent to Middlemore immediately. Over the course of 3 days I saw many doctors who were baffled by my apparent fitness but unresponsiveness to antibiotics, until a routine test for H1 N1 Swine Flu proved positive. This resulted in me being swiftly removed from the ward and placed in isolation!  
It is now 7 weeks since I contracted Influenza, and it is only just in the last day that I feel like I am becoming my old self. I was off work for over 2 weeks, out of the pool for 5 weeks and have just started to get back in and get my toes wet. Prior to Samoa my training and fitness was at the best it has been in 5 years. It's amazing when you are sick and get can barely get out of bed what you miss....early morning training sessions, squad training, gym workouts, running with the dog. At the moment they are still on the wish list but there is light at the end of the tunnel and it's getting brighter. 

On a follow up visit to my doctor a couple of weeks ago he told me I should consider writing off the swim season. I told him it hadn't even started yet! He said I was extremely ill and too much pressure on the heart could mean long term damage. Out of curiosity I asked him how I had managed to race three 4 km races in the ocean with a potentially life threatening illness. He didn't need to say anything...he just pointed to his head. I interpreted it that he thinks I'm a nutter!
I could have contracted this illness anywhere, I was just unfortunate or unwise not to have had the vaccination this year.
I thoroughly recommend any open water swimmers to consider Seti's race series. The water temperature and lack of need for a wetsuit is a big draw. It's well organised and supported and will continue to grow. Give it a go."  Dawn Walker, South City Masters

Dawn, we wish you a speedy recovery and hope to see you back in the water soon!

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