Bridging gaps in swimming caps

29 April 2019
Student set to swim the English Channel for Indigenous health and sarcoma research
Not even ice-cold ocean temperatures and 35 kilometres of non-stop swimming could stop Chris Watson and Professor Stuart Lane from taking on the English Channel to raise funds for a worthy cause.

Meet the two protagonists in a tale of connection, inspiration and a very, very long swim – the English Channel.

The English Channel is not what most would consider a pleasant dip in the ocean. It involves ice-cold temperatures, 35 kilometres of non-stop swimming and, according to English Channel finisher Professor Stuart Lane, 'you spend more time than you would think avoiding jellyfish, whirlpools, cargo ships and overcoming constant mental battles.'

Professor Lane completed the swim in 2017 to raise money for equitable post intensive care out-patient clinics, and now his former student, Chris Watson, is about to take on the challenge for himself.

After starting his undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, and going on to do a Masters in Genetic Research, Chris is now in his final year of Medicine. He is heavily involved with the Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation, and also works with the Poche Centre as a passionate advocate for Indigenous healthcare rights.

Chris, what inspired you to do this?

Chris: "A friend of mine, Greg Shein who is also a Sydney Uni alumni, did the swim 5 years ago. He said to me that anyone can do the swim and that you don’t need to be an amazingly fast or professional sportsperson to do it. For some reason I believed him, saw the opportunity to fundraise and just went for it! In hindsight, hearing that advice from someone who is 6’3, a national swimmer and has his name next to some of the fastest swim times on record, I maybe should have taken his advice with a grain of salt."

"Thankfully my brother Matt Watson (Medicine) and friend Sam Gilbert (Biomedical Engineering), will be coming along with me to do the swim as a relay, so the three of us decided to do this together, and raise money for something we all really care about."

What are you raising money for?

Chris: "I’m raising money for two causes, one being the University of Sydney Poche Centre for Indigenous Health. I was heavily involved with the centre during my postgraduate degree and went on a few fly-in fly-out trips to Indigenous communities in Brewarrina and Bourke. Working with the Poche Centre and seeing first-hand the impact they’re making in local communities really motivated me to do more to address the obvious inequalities that surround indigenous healthcare.

The Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation is another cause that is important to me. A family friend of ours sadly passed away because of sarcoma, and actually one in five paediatric cancer deaths is sarcoma related, so I’m really invested in raising money and awareness for this kind of research."

What do you hope to come from the funds raised?

Chris: "I have complete faith in these two organisations to use the funds in a way that it will have the most impact. I know that the fly in fly out clinics run by the Poche Centre are quite expensive, so some of the funds could be used to give more students the opportunity to experience medicine in a rural environment, and change their perceptions and career incentives like it did mine."

Professor Stuart Lane, or ‘Prof Lane’ as he is known to his students, splits his time as an Intensive Care Specialist at the Nepean Clinical School, and also works at the University transforming the Medical School curriculum by implementing interactive Indigenous health care modules.

Prof Lane, what is your advice to Chris?

Professor Stuart Lane: "I have a lot of advice because I made plenty of mistakes when I did the swim myself. The first piece of advice is just to get really, really used to long monotonous ocean swims, but also to mix up your training so you don’t get bored. The other thing is to surround yourself with a good team of good people. Sometimes things go right, and sometimes they don’t – but as long as you’ve got good people around you, you’ll be able to push through."

When you did the swim in 2017, what was your motivation?

Professor Stuart Lane: "So, a lot of my research is centred on creating socially equitable health care environments with a specific focus on Indigenous health. When I did the swim I was raising money on behalf of the University for research and to set up post intensive care outpatient clinics. The money was also used to help transform the University of Sydney medical curriculum to better equip graduates with greater knowledge and understanding of indigenous healthcare."

What did it feel like when you reached dry land after completing the swim?

Professor Stuart Lane: "I’ll never forget the feeling of standing back up on the solid sand after swimming non-stop for 12 hours and 4 minutes. I felt indestructible for a while, and simultaneously completely at peace with what I’d done – I didn’t need more. This translated into the way I look at my life and career and made me focus more on the present, rather than what’s next”.

“It’s also really satisfying to see the results come from your hard work, whether that’s training for a swim, working hard in your career, or seeing money raised being used for something that’s making a real difference."

Chris Watson will be swimming the English Channel in July with brother Matt and friend Sam Gilbert by his side.

You can support them by donating to the Poche Centre for Indigenous health or the Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation for sarcoma research.

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