I actually trained over in Sydney and I would go over once every five weeks for a week. And then I would do the other four weeks by myself. Sometimes I was training at two o’clock in the morning in the backyard pool tied to a piece of rubber swimming on the spot, or going down to the shark net by myself in the middle of the night and swimming there for a couple of hours. There were a few times when my mates would come down and jump in or keep an eye on me, but there were also many times when I just went down by myself. Sometimes I thought I would love a shark to just pop up and—I don’t know—take a nibble out of my leg so I’d have an excuse not to go back in the water.
After the English Channel, I then came back home and had about three weeks where I just focused on study. I was studying about 18 hours a day because I had missed 8 weeks of the semester. The University was good at helping me throughout that process and I’m very fortunate that they were so supportive. I then never really got back into swimming after that. Then, when I was over in Sydney catching up with my coach and friends, I felt inspired to set a new challenge and so I set the challenge of trying to swim from Cottesloe around Rottnest and back to Cottesloe.
The worst that can happen is that you try and you fail. But the hard part is getting to the point where you actually give something a go. I think a lot of us are scared to go beyond that goal-setting space.
But then I started looking into how frequent the sharks were popping up and how much time I would need to commit to training for it. I sat down with one of my lecturers and told them that I was struggling with one of the units, the workload and my swimming. My lecturer said, ‘you’re not superman. You can’t do your marathon sports and expect to study law.’ So I came out of that meeting and I thought, she’s correct.
It was quite interesting because sometimes when I went into a negative space about swimming, I’d just think about how I’d done the 36-hour study bender that was a hell of a lot tougher—mentally and physically—than jumping in a body of water and swimming. There are a lot of people around me that are making bigger sacrifices to support me. Without the team and the network—without your peers in the water or your coach, your family, or your friends, it’s probably highly unlikely that you’d make it across any challenge in life that has a little bit of a hurdle along the way.
Peter’s story shows that, no matter the training, the wrath of external elements can be the biggest obstacle. Peter reflected on this when telling the story of his double crossing to Rottnest.
We got down at Leighton beach for a 5:30am start. The weather was very nice in the morning, but in the afternoon, it was horrendous. The Freo Doctor came in with 25-knot winds and diagonal swells, my body just got hammered. We took off, and I think the fastest I had ever swum to Rottnest in a solo was 8 hours, and anyone will tell you that’s not very fast. People will always tell you, ‘Oh, it’s just great that you got there!’ On my double, I got to Rottnest in 5 hours and 50 minutes, so that was great. I felt fine and so when I arrived I ate a little bit of pizza and had some Gatorade, and then, while waiting for my friend to join me on my swim I had to go out and tread water. I remember thinking, this is cold and miserable and windy. I’m getting splashed in the face and I’ve eaten this pizza that was starting to make me feel a bit nauseous—way too much sauce on it.
When we finally started our swim back, it went from bad to worse. The weather turned and it was windy and the waves were breaking over the top of me. I got to about eight and a half hours into the swim and I just felt like I wanted to quit. But there was no way I was going to get out of the water. My right arm was in a world of hurt and, with every single stroke, a wave would break over my right arm and sort of roll me over onto my back every now and then. I remember thinking, I hope a big shark pops up next to me so that my friends can pull me out of the water because I’m not going to be the one to pull myself out of the water.
When I think about what inspires me, and what kicks me up the bum to do these sort of things, I think it’s curiosity. I think it’s that I’m 30 years old and I am fit and healthy. I might not have the money, but I’ll figure out how to earn it. I really, really just want to make the most of life. I try and live by the saying, ‘learn like you will live forever and live like you will die tomorrow,’ I think that’s just a spin on a phrase from Gandhi. I just use that as my mantra in life and apply myself. The worst that can happen is that you try and you fail. But the hard part is getting to the point where you actually give something a go. I think a lot of us are scared to go beyond that goal-setting space.
Peter successfully completed a solo crossing of the Rottnest Channel Swim in 5 hours and 46 minutes.