Ellery McGowan is an outdoor swimmer with a swim cv and sense of adventure that inspires the swimming community. Her swim highlights include Lake Zurich, Ederle, Manhattan, Toroneos Gulf and Kalamata plus 5 Channel relays and 4 Winter Swimming Championships, Most recently she completed an All Women Relay of the English Channel, setting a new record for the Oldest Women’s Channel Relay, with a combined age of 393. Team Members were Irene Keel (76), Ellery McGowan (70),Chris Pitman (66), Dee Richards (62) Sally Minty Gravett (59) and Kathy Batts (57) and the time taken to cross was 15 hours and 17 minutes. Ellery is also a swim teacher and swimming coach at Charterhouse.
In 2015 Ellery’s son James, an accomplished athlete, passed away from Adult Sudden Death Syndrome and she is now using swimming as a platform to raise awareness of Cardiac Risk in the Young , an organisation which draws attention to the range of conditions that can cause young sudden cardiac death. Each week in the UK at least 12 fit and healthy young people die of undiagnosed heart conditions. She has raised several thousand dollars in 2015 alone by her challenge undertaking “5 Swims in 5 Countries for a Five Star Son”.
A Lotus Rises caught up with Ellery to talk about her swimming journey, what inspires her and her adventures.
Why did you start outdoor swimming?
I taught myself to swim at aged 5 in an estuary in Tasmania and later swam in rivers and dams. There were no swimming pools in the vicinity of where I lived. However I took up masters swimming when I moved to Germany on 1991 and as I had never been in a club I could not even kick 25metres. I competed in Masters but in 2004 saw a stand in Riccione for SwimTrek and signed up for my first trip to Turkey. I loved every minute of it, swimming the Hellespont and a 10km swim across to Bozcaada among other swims. I felt at home once again.
What have been the highs and lows in your swimming journey and how do you stay motivated?
My first open water race was at the World Masters in Edmonton in 2005 where I came back with a gold medal which surprised me…. That was a high!
My lowest of low was not making it to France as a solo in 2015. I was pulled out after 11 hours in the French Shipping lane. I hate not finishing what I set out to do and not completing Rottnest in February due to the strong currents and not making the cut-off was also disappointing
What do you think are the three most important things for effective swim training?
I train regularly but think self- discipline, consistency in training and motivation to do so and cross training are essential.
What three tips do you have for swimmers new to open water?
- Swim with an open mind
- Enjoy the experience- every swim will be different.
- Don’t put stress on oneself by hoping to finish in an unrealistic time.
How do you prepare for your swim challenges?
I am fortunate that I can train by myself and have the self-discipline to do so, but I also go on training camps to be with like- minded people.
I have a feeding plan which works for me and I have used for the last seven years! (Maxim and High5 isogel alternating along with half a banana every 3 hours)
A “Tupperware” box goes with me containing “ouch” for jelly fish stings, Voltaren for inflammation, ibuprofen for pain relief, an anti-histamine cream, sturgeron for sea sickness, night lights, safety pins etc. I cannot recall when I last used any of these apart from Voltaren on my 30km Kalamata swim last September.
How do you avoid injury?
I listen to my body but after a shoulder injury over 10 years ago I concentrated on my technique. I do two Pilates sessions a week, one yoga and a gyrotonics to keep my body supple and for core strength. I also do two spin classes for cardio.
Why did you do the English Channel relay? How was it?!
We had planned to do a two way in 2015 but were weathered out and managed to start a one way. However a massive storm hit us for the last few hours. I remember at 11:00 at night swimming in lightening and hail for the whole of my swim with everyone else in the cabin of Anastasia sheltering. Two hours later the seas became rough, the boat was lifted out of the water as winds reached 40 knots and we had to call it a day for safety just 2 miles off the French Coast.
Kathy re-booked with Eddie Spelling for this year , first on the tide but as the weather was not so good we went a day early, with just one replacement member due to injury. The first relay was four months before James died and this was the first time I had been in the Channel since. We all felt the cold after our first night swim which was pretty rough too but we had a full moon which was beautiful. Conditions smoothed out during my second leg but the third was magical coming towards the white cliffs of Les Escalles. I swam very hard and was just 17 minutes from the landing. I felt James was with me all the way in that glorious sunshine.
Has swimming helped cope with your bereavement?
Most definitely. I think of him a lot during my swims and I know the money I raise is now going towards research and screening. We have two days of screening planned at Charterhouse in June which will be covered by money from James’ memorial fund.
Most of all I look back and know that the cold water swimming has put me in a good place. I have no problem in getting into -0.2 water in Siberia with air at -15 and swimming a 100m race. The feeling afterwards is always elating.
Your swimming accomplishments range from marathon swims to winter swimming championship medals – do you have a favourite swim and also, what next?
Every swim is different because of the elements, but I think possibly Toroneos Gulf has been my favourite. I was invited to do this by a Greek marathon swimmer whom I met on “The Big Blue” after swimming Manhattan. He sadly died earlier this year, also at a young age, from cancer. The swim was 26 km in the beautiful Ionian Sea, a wonderful atmosphere and in Greece everyone who finishes is a winner. To swim in hearing Vangelis playing loudly and having a huge wreath of olive leaves placed over my head by two fellow Greek swimming friends was just amazing.
What is your favourite swim cake?
I am not a great cake eater but would never say no to any, especially a rum cake!
What is your favourite swimming costume for open water and why?
I have a few but at the moment it is knee length Agon with an Australian design and my name ELLERY emblazoned on the front. (Just in case I forget who I am!)
Out of the water A Lotus Rises…Thank you Ellery!