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Doing it: Ben Campbell-Macdonald swimming the length of Lake Wakatipu, the first person to do so.
By JUDITH LACY
Southern Everest knocked off
' There is a lot of rational thinking where I wonder why I am
doing this sort of thing because it hurts an awful lot.
Ben Campbell-Macdonald ' Long road: Marathon swimmer Ben Campbell-
Macdonald learnt to swim at the Lido Aquatic
Centre in Palmerston North.
Photo: ROBERT KITCHIN
Nursing a broken leg, Ben
Campbell-Macdonald needed some-
thing to think about.
When his brother-in-law told him
about working with Philip Rush
supporting swimmers attempting to
cross Cook Strait, his interest in
long-distance swimming was
About six years later, he com-
pleted the Mt Everest of New Zea-
land long distance swimming -- the
81 kilometre Lake Wakatipu in
Otago, the longest lake in the
The swim earlier this month took
the 31-year-old 18 and a half hours.
Born and raised in Palmerston
North, Campbell-Macdonald was
taught to swim by Steve Williams
who still coaches swimming in the
John, a retired cardiologist, used to
be a competitive swimmer and
encouraged his four children to take
up the sport.
Campbell-Macdonald was part of
Williams' squad until he moved to
Dunedin, where he gained a first-
class honours degree in philosophy
from Otago University.
For eight months he was part of
the legendary Duncan Laing's
squad but gave competitive swim-
ming away to concentrate on his
He continued to exercise every
day, in particular running and cyc-
So when he took up long distance
swimming he had a fitness base to
Now resident in Wellington,
attempted to cross Cook Strait but
motion sickness forced him out of
He holds the record for the fastest
crossing of Lake Taupo in a wetsuit
-- 9 hours, 43 minutes.
He trains in Wellington Harbour
swimming from Oriental Bay along
to the lighthouse where he tumble
turns and comes back, a distance of
2.5km, using it as a long distance
When asked why he wanted to
swim the length of Lake Wakatipu,
Campbell-Macdonald says he can
give a superficial answer or -- draw-
ing on his philosophy study -- can
try and give a detailed explanation,
but he would struggle.
The superficial answer is as in
any competitive sport the objective
is to be the first, the fastest, the
youngest, the oldest.
Beyond that explanations are
more tricky, the former Freyberg
High School student said.
I wanted to swim the lake and
it's very difficult to explain why. But
I also did it to amuse my friends and
His uncle suggested an expla-
nation, by sharing the story of the
mental health patient who told a
doctor he banged his head against a
wall because when I finish it feels
To Campbell-Macdonald, swim-
ming is as natural as walking and
when you get good at something you
try to extend yourself, he said.
Williams, who started coaching
Campbell-Macdonald 25 years ago,
said he is stoked'' by the Wakatipu
It is like Mt Everest, as swimmers
thought it couldn't be done, Wil-
Even in summer there was still
snow on the surrounding
I don't think people quite under-
stand what 12 degrees [Celsius]
feels like in the water,'' Campbell-
The regular swimming pool is 27
Though Campbell-Macdonald has
not been part of Williams' squad for
years, they keep in touch and when-
ever he returns to Palmerston
North he visits his for-
He's never been a
naysayer, which I think
is probably the most
important attribute in a
coach and he taught me to swim,''
He did not tell anyone about his
plans to swim Wakatipu except his
support crew and Williams; he did
not want to worry his parents as it
is an activity not without risk.
During the swim his mind
wandered like it regularly does''.
There is a lot of rational thinking
where I wonder why I am doing this
sort of thing because it hurts an
There was a just a little bit of
vomiting crossing Wakatipu but
nothing like during his attempt
three years ago in more choppy
He has no desire to have
another go at crossing Cook
Strait -- attempts cost a lot of
money and he has tried all the
drugs to get over the motion sick-
ness. His next goal is the King of
the Bays on March 31, part of the
Ocean Swim Series -- a mere
Campbell-Macdonald is a pol-
icy analyst at the National
Health Committee, which
provides advice on how to pro-
vide more cost effective services.
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