Storytellers – Coach Charm and Marty Filipowski

We welcomed Coach Charm to talk about some of the travels and challenges that swimming has brought her. Charm needed little introduction, a former BBC Club Captain, former Storyteller, famed for her initiative ‘the Charm’s 500’ which has attracted a growing following and most recently appointed joint BBC Club Member of the Year!

Balmoral training

Charm was joined by Marty Filipowski who earlier this year became the 100th swimmer to successfully swim the Cook Strait. Marty and Charm have teamed up previously for Marty’s other swims namely the English Channel, Catalina and Manhattan. We were also joined by Marty’s partner Sonny who provided an insight into being involved in such endurance swims without actually participating.

Storytellers Sonny, Marty and Charm

Before we gave the floor to Charm, Marty and Sonny we began with a little bit of audience participation as we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to regular attendee Alan Gill, who had recently turned 80. Mention was also made of Hilarie Lindsay, sister of Dallas, and daughter of Arthur Dyson, one of the original Smugglers, the founders of the BBC. Hilarie who turned 95 on the day of our meeting for once was an apology. Certainly a rare occurrence indeed for Hilarie to miss a Storytellers meeting!

Our storytellers then took us through how they all met, and the different roles they all had in preparing for these epic swims, testing endurance, body and mind. Certainly not to be undertaken by the faint hearted. They combined wonderfully to inform a very attentive audience about the enormous amount of preparation and commitment required. Some of these swims required registering 3 years in advance. Then of course there is the swim registration cost plus airfares, support crew and time off work. Their talk was accompanied by some great photos ranging from horrible English Channel conditions, their food and drink supplies, to the different characters they met at pubs and on beaches. The camaraderie was very evident amongst the three of them, very akin to brothers and sister. No wonder if you’re sharing cramped hotel rooms, the highs and lows, ambitions and dreams.

Marty contemplating the last 9 hours 6 minutes!

Marty spoke about the need to increase his body fat otherwise a successful swim across the English Channel was out of the question. Marty thought at first he was too skinny to attempt the Channel .. and a cold-water camp in Melbourne was pivotal in confirming his self-doubt. At his first cold water camp, he got hyperthermia and was ordered out of the water after four and a half hrs of an eight-hour endurance swim. He was given hot chocolate and the like but he remembers little of the incident. A plan was hatched to overcome this problem. Simple enough. Spend more time in cold water and increase his body fat. Marty was then 72kg with 8% body fat. He started to work with Tara Diversi, a Channel Swimmer and Sports nutritionist. He needed to have 22 to 24% body fat and increase his weight to 92kgs. He’s currently 88kgs. His approach was to eat 2 breakfasts, 2 x lunches, 2 x dinners and drink 2 litres of fruit juice per day. Sonny quipped that he’s expensive to take out for dinner!

The main point was that Marty had overcome his self-doubt and had full confidence that Coach Charm had prepared him well for his English Channel swim. Just as well as Marty was really flagging towards the end of the swim. He was 500m off the French coast. He could see the coast but was struggling in big seas. The wind was blowing hard and he could see the accompanying trawler’s hull. There weren’t many photos and videos taken at this time as everyone on board was ill. They were all screaming at Marty to swim. The official observer asked Marty’s sister what was going on. She had been given strict instruction by Marty NOT to talk to anyone onboard, however, she turned to Sonny and said that if Marty died it was down to him!! In the water, Marty kept questioning Charm on whether he should continue. Typically Charm responded “if you can talk you can swim” with other words included!!!

Marty really acknowledge that the swim wasn’t just about him but was a real team effort. This was evidenced at the pointy end of the swim by Charm continually assessing whether he had enough strength to continue, a big responsibility and also a triathlete friend who jumped in to accompany him to beach for the last 500m.

Sonny told how that when they met he understood that it was all about Marty until he had achieved his Channel swim. He could easily have settled as a swim widow. This didn’t suit him so he decided to get involved with the preparation and regularly flew over from Perth to paddle during training swims. He recalled one particular swim at Brighton Le Sands. It was a horribly windy day and Marty was swimming with Tori (present in audience) and Sonny paddled alongside and became part of it all. He also immersed himself in the swimming social scene. Our storytellers then moved on to the other swims, Catalina, Manhattan and finally the most recent Cook Strait. Lots more anecdotes, lots of photos and then lots of questions from the audience before time ran out.

Many thanks to Charm, Marty and Sonny for a thoroughly enjoyable evening listening to the trials and tribulations of endurance swims.