California swimmer armed with can-do attitude

Swimmer John Caughlin is ready to swim around White Island today. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Swimmer John Caughlin is ready to swim around White Island today. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Open-water swimming is all about adapting.

That is John Caughlin’s approach, at least.

It is an approach which should help him swim around White Island today.

If the conditions change, you adapt. If a big wave comes, you adapt.

So when he lost his right arm in a swimming accident eight years ago, it was just one more thing to adapt to.

"Ocean swimming is really about adapting to the environment," the 50-year-old said.

"Being short a hand or two, that’s just another adaptation you have to make. If there’s a swell, if there’s waves, if there’s wind you just adapt.

"That’s the beauty of open-water swimming."

The swim around the island was something he said "just has to be done".

From Halfmoon Bay in Northern California, Caughlin has been taking a variety of papers at the University of Otago for the past two years.

He has been an open-water swimmer for the past 20 years and had spent plenty of time swimming at St Clair Beach.

Having White Island in the distance had provided inspiration to swim around it.

Today, he will be accompanied by a friend from home, Gabor Langyel.

Isaac Davies, from the St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club, which hosts the annual White Island Race race, is co-ordinating the safety measures. That includes having an IRB boat, a paddler and radios in case the pair get into trouble.

Caughlin did not have too many doubts.

"I’m pretty confident. A few weeks ago I was in California and we swam around Alcatraz Island and it’s about the same distance.

"We did that two days in a row in very similar water temperatures, so this shouldn’t be outside of our abilities."

The swim would be the latest of many he has done, both before and after his accident.

He was left with the injury at the Maui Channel Swim in Hawaii in September 2011.

As a boat went to leave finish area of the 16km race it ran into him, taking his right arm and part of his left hand.

Getting back into the pool had been tough. He could not swim the way he used to and it was frustrating comparing times to those he swam before the accident.

However, in the open water he remained in his element.

"I wear fins now. I’ve never been a great kicker and now I wear fins.

"I love being in the ocean. I’m not looking to break any records.

"I just love swimming and I don’t know why more people aren’t here swimming. It’s a beautiful beach, especially on a day like today."

He has since completed the Maui Channel again, which he said was ‘"a big deal".

Caughlin would be in Dunedin for another month, before returning home after travelling throughout New Zealand.

He plans to leave St Clair Beach between 2.30pm-3pm today.

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