• Lifestyle

Antia Comelli's love for ocean swimming lives on through ACES

In memory of his late sister, Anita Comelli, Tony Arena formed the ACES to continue her love and legacy of ocean swimming.

In 2005, during Anita Comelli’s final moments before passing away following a battle with cancer, her brother, Tony Arena, promised Anita that her love of the water and ocean swimming would be carried on.

It had been Ms Comelli who had originally convinced Mr Arena to start ocean swimming, and nearly 20 years after her passing he is continuing to spread his sister’s love of the water.

“My sister got into ocean swimming back in the 1990s,” said Mr Arena.

“She was a swimming instructor in Wollongong and loved being in the water.

“She said that she kept getting an email from the Balmoral Swim, so she decided to do it and loved it.

“She continued to ocean swim year after year from then on and the Balmoral Swim was one of her favourites that she looked forward to each year.”

Mr Arena wasn’t a big swimmer himself in his early years, but once Ms Comelli convinced him to give it a try, he fell in love with the sport.

“Anita was the one who influenced me to get into ocean swimming,” said Mr Arena.

“I was never as keen on ocean swimming as Anita but I would go down and swim at the beach and Thirroul Pool and Austinmer Pool and it grew on me.

“I find ocean swimming to be a very relaxing sport and have done multiple ocean swimming events over the years, including the Balmoral Swim For Cancer.

“I like the Balmoral swim but also the Palm to Whale, Cole Classic and the Lake Argyle Swim are now some of my favourites because of how challenging they can be at times.”

Anita’s legacy continues

Sadly, when Ms Comelli became very ill with cancer, she couldn’t enjoy her love of ocean swimming but her brother made a promise to continue her legacy in the water.

“When my sister was dying in St Vincent’s Hospital and the inevitable was approaching she looked up at me and asked if she was going to die,” said Mr Arena.

“I assured her that she wouldn’t and that I would help her legend live on and that is where ‘Anita Comelli’s Excellent Squad’ or ‘ACES’ was born.

“Anita didn’t have any children of her own but she was ‘mother’ to the children of my sister Maria and myself, which accounts for nine nieces. So, when she passed I banded everyone together to get involved in the Balmoral Swim for Cancer to not only raise money for those who need it but to also carry on her legacy.

“Each year, we all prepare differently, some train in the lead-up to the event while others just wing it on the day, but we always make sure we are there to do what Anita loved – ocean swimming.

“Over the years I have also gone out and made sure I have been a major fundraiser for the event, with some years raising over 30 thousand dollars for the event.”

Grandkids take the baton

Sadly, due to a health scare three years ago, Mr Arena no longer participates in the Balmoral Swim for Cancer himself, however, he makes sure the ACES are ready to go and has recently influenced the next generation of ocean swimmers in the family.

“I had a cardiac arrest in 2021, so I haven’t done any ocean swimming since then but I make sure I’m at the beach supporting the family,” said Mr Arena.

“Recently, the grandkids of the family wrote me a letter, wanting to become more involved with organising the ACES, which was wonderful to see the next generation wanting to get on board and help. It means that we have passed on the message and Anita’s legacy continues to live on as we hand on the flame.

The letter Mr Arena received from younger members of the ACES wanting to take over organising the team for the Balmoral Swim for Cancer

“While passing the flame, won’t be easy, it’s great to see because we need a few leaders in that generation to take over and drive participation and fundraising.

“The kids are very excited and it’s going to be a slow start, but I am taking this year to get them all together and show them how it’s done, so hopefully next year, they can take the lead and continue to carry on Anita’s legacy.”

Head to the Balmoral Swim for Cancer listing to join the ACES and find out more about the event.

  • Written by Suzie Ryan on 27 February 2024
  • (Updated on 27 February 2024)

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