• Lifestyle

Butterfly and brain cancer

Rachel Matthews lost not just one friend to brain cancer but two. Now, she’s rising to the challenge of swimming 10km butterfly and raising funds for Brain Cancer Research.

Words and photos by Saltwater Rosie

If a mate asked you to swim 10km in the ocean, would you do it?

Maybe, as with most endurance activities, it might depend on what’s going on in your life and the
type of connection you have with the person asking.

What if the person asking is no longer with us?

Would you nurture a passion to be part of something that connects you to them, maybe become an active member in the community by participating in an awareness campaign, part of something that
has the potential to lessen the grief of loss for someone else?

Rachel Matthews knows that loss. She’s lost not just one friend to brain cancer but two.

Rachel is also an ocean swimmer rising to the challenge of swimming 10km butterfly and raising
funds for Brain Cancer Research. And if that isn’t impressive enough, this will be her second time,
making it 20km in total.

On the 6th of May 2023, as part of Swim The Gold Coast, she’ll test her physical and mental fitness as she dives into the ocean to complete the 10km event doing butterfly.

Rachel in the pink cap swimming butterfly with the Gold Coast Open Water Swimming Club

Saltwater Rosie: Can you tell us a bit about your swim?

Rachel Matthews: This is the second time I’ll be doing 10km butterfly and this time I will do it as part of the 21km Coolangatta to Surfers ocean swim. I did my first 10km Butterfly swim back in 2019. It was meant to be in the ocean but unfortunately, my support paddler was sick so I moved it to the Centenary pool. I am back doing the challenge again for two reasons, 1) to raise money for brain cancer research and 2) because for me personally it was always meant to be an ocean swim.

SR: So what’s it like when you finish a 10km fly swim?

RM: All I can say is a lot of tears and relief. I was so lucky to have my friends and family poolside and some even swam with me for a few laps.  For the next few days, I struggled with getting my arms above my head much to my colleagues’ amusement.

It has taken me a while to get back in the pool and start training again.  It’s only really in the last six months that I have been keen to do it again. I hope the ocean is kind to me on the day and that I raise enough money to contribute to the research needed for so many Australians young and old.

SR: You are using your swim to raise awareness and much-needed funds, can you tell us a bit more about that?

RM: I’m raising money for Brain Cancer Research. I’ve lost friends to the disease. I lost my friend Mady in 2019, the year I swam my first 10km butterfly. My son Jack and Mady’s son Lucas were great friends at school and still are to this day. 

As Mady is Dutch, their family moved to the Netherlands a few years prior to her diagnosis. In 2019 Jack and I booked our holiday to visit our friends but sadly Mady passed away before we arrived. I think that was the hardest thing.  We had talked about our visit and we were both so excited. We still went and spent time with Mady’s husband Patrick and their two boys.

My second loss was when my dear friend Laura’s fiancée died from brain cancer as well. Most people don’t survive this type of cancer and the more money I can raise the more research can be done. Brain cancer is not age specific like a lot of other cancers. It can strike anyone at any time. 

SR: Have you always been an ocean swimmer?

RM: I started swimming when I was about 5yrs old but I only did swimming at school as I was more into Netball. I really got into swimming when I was about 33 when I fell in love with long distances in the ocean. I love Ocean swimming more now than ever before. It’s peaceful out there. No phones, no pool lane issues. 

SR: Some people might say swimming 10km of butterfly in the open water is astoundingly ambitious and will be an incredible feat once achieved. How did you begin to train for this event?

RM: I got in the pool one day and did 500m of fly, then decided that wasn’t an event so went to 800m and thought, “I may as well make the 1km”. From there I just wanted to see how far I could go. I then decided to give it a go in the ocean which proved a success as I was able to swim in a straight line. It feels amazing out there doing fly. 

The training for this type of event is more mental than physical for me. My partner writes my programs and is a great help and I love my ocean swim session with Gold Coast Open Water Swimming Club on Saturdays as it breaks up the pool sessions. I do 3-5kms per set of free and fly.  

SR: Is there one take-home message from your ocean swimming journey, that you’d like people to know?

RM: Anything is possible. I swam 10km of butterfly in the pool a few years ago which was great but not my goal. If you put your mind to it you can do anything.

SR: If people would like to donate to Brain Cancer research, how can they go about it?

RM: If people wish to donate then they just need to head to the Cure Brain Cancer website.

Saltwater Rosie invites you to explore the world through the eyes of an ocean-loving swimmer. Visit the Swishsnap website for fine art prints from the ocean, for your home.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 7 March 2023
  • (Updated on 4 August 2023)

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