Picture yourself in the middle of the ocean, equipped with only goggles and a pair of speedos, with four to six metre waves swelling around you, the possibility of sharks and jellyfish underneath you and a 42 kilometre swim through night and day between you and your destination.
For Welsh-born Sydney man Cae Tolman, this image will soon become a reality as he plans to achieve his long term goal of swimming the Moloka’i Channel, Hawaii in April, whilst also raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation (AADRF).
The feat, only successfully completed by 43 people, will be Cae’s biggest swimming challenge yet, but he is hoping his chances of completing the swim are high, after successfully swimming the English Channel in July 2014 with a time of 13 hours and nine minutes.
If successful, Cae AKA AquaCae will swim the Moloka’i Channel on a suitable day in early April and will take somewhere between 15-18 hours to do so.
Having previously raised $15,000 from his English Channel swim for the AADRF and with plans to raise at least $25,000 from this swim, Cae is passionate about limiting the impact that dementia has in Australia through funding research.
"I have experience of the devastating nature of Alzheimer's disease through personal experience and through my early days as a hospital doctor working in aged care. I have seen how, insidious at first, it robs people of their memories, independence and finally their families and the frustration relatives feel in being helpless.
“For years my grandparents managed my grandmother's dementia, until my grandfather became too sick to look after her. Sadly, memory problems are seen as an inevitable sign of aging so early warning signs go unheeded,” he said.
With a background working in the biopharmaceutical industry, Cae said he understands how difficult the search for treatments for Alzheimer’s disease can be.
“By the time symptoms show there is mostly irreversible neurological damage, so research must focus on preventing the injury that will cause symptoms in the future. I think this is the greatest challenge facing research."
Cae first started swimming in 2011 in open water and quickly fell in love with it. When he decided to raise funds for dementia research, he felt that using his love for “wild swimming” would be the best way to do so.
“This [love] was brought home to me last weekend when I did a five and a half hour swim with a friend at Bondi. The swell was massive, about four metres with sets up to six or eight metres. Being out in the open water, a kilometre offshore, swimming up mountains of ocean gives me a sense of freedom and love of nature. So few people see waves smashing headlands from the water and it’s a rare and wonderful thing,” he said.
Cae said that the key to success in marathon swimming is to have the ability to enter a “meditative state”.
“To stay ‘present’ for hours and hours of swimming, through pain, fatigue and mental battles is impossible, so it is important to have the ability to ‘go somewhere’ for 20-30 minutes at a time, awake, but not focusing on the physical world,” Cae said.
“The challenge of marathon swimming is both physical and mental. Physical preparation is through my training: four mornings a week in squad and an ocean swim of two to eight hours every Saturday. The mental challenge is harder to prepare for, I have ups and downs but I get a lot of benefit from seeing a sports psychologist.
“The challenge is as much about the journey that leads me to the swim as the swim itself. I know I will not enjoy all of it, but I am very excited.”