In 2018 Ned Wieland became swimmer number 172, and, at 16-years-old, the youngest person to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming*.
Since then, Mr Wieland has continued to conquer ultra-marathon swims to raise money for mental health charity ‘R U OK’ and has his eyes set on becoming the youngest male to complete the Oceans Seven^.
In this feature, Suzie Ryan talks to Mr Wieland, now 20, about how he got into marathon swimming at such a young age, his swimming experiences through his teenage years, and what’s next for him.
Why ultra-marathon swimming so young?
Growing up with swim coaches as parents, it was hard for Mr Wieland to not end up swimming in some capacity but it was one ocean swim that got him hooked on the open water.
“Growing up I was always out at Homebush at swim meets,” said Mr Wieland.
“But one day my Dad said ‘come done and try this ocean swim’, it ended up being the North Bondi Classic.
“I tried it and I ended up falling in love with ocean swimming and I was hooked from there.
“Don’t get me wrong pool swimming is great but for me sitting out at Homebush at a swim meet and watching race after race, to get up and race a 50m or 100m or even 400m, it’s just not as enjoyable as ocean swimming.
“In ocean swimming, I get to see a few things along the way rather than chasing the black line.”
While all it took was once ocean swim to get Mr Wieland hooked on ocean swimming, it was the tragic suicide of one of his ocean swimming mates that prompted him to pursue marathon swimming.
“Being a member of the North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club and getting into ocean swimming, I knew a few people down on the beach who did it at the same time as me,” said Mr Wieland.
“I had a friend and mentor who was always on the start line with me and he would tell me how I should swim the race and what I was going to do.
“Unfortunately, one day he just wasn’t on the start line with me. I then heard that he had taken his life because he was really battling some demons and he couldn’t battle them anymore.
“This is what drove me to start doing the longer swims and take the step into the ultra-marathon swimming world to raise awareness for R U OK (a suicide prevention charity that aims to start life-changing conversations).
“I’ve pretty much done that ever since and still love doing the swims.”
The pursuit to be the youngest person to complete the Oceans Seven
In 2018 Mr Wieland became the youngest person to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming at 16-years-old.
Since then, he has been eyeing off the title of the youngest person to complete the Oceans Seven which is currently held by another Australian, Tom Pembroke.
Pembroke, who was 29-years and 10 months and 6-days when he completed the seventh swim, crossing the Cook Straight on 14 December 2018, was also swimming for charity, raising more than $150k for various charities.
“In 2017 when I was sixteen I swam the English Channel (becoming the youngest Australian male). After that I wanted to try and tick off the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming,” said Mr Wieland.
“I then went over to America in 2018 and swam the Catalina Channel, which is 32.3 kilometres from Santa Catalina to California’s mainland.”
“Two weeks later I did the Swim Around Manhattan which was 45.9 kilometres, this swim was when I completed the Triple Crown of Open Water and became the youngest male to do so.”
“When I got back, I started thinking I want to be the youngest to tick off the Oceans Seven since I had already done three of the swims, the Swim Around Manhatten, English Channel and the Catalina Channel.”
“So I had planned to do the Molokai swim in 2020 but unfortunately I had to postpone it because of Covid and lockdowns, but I’ll be back this year trying to tick off the remaining swims.”
Juggling training for ultra-marathon swims and a social life
Mr Wieland’s training is pretty similar when preparing for all his ultra-marathon swims, as he likes to describe it – ‘it’s a lot of kilometres but it isn’t anything ridiculous’.
“My usual training when I’m preparing for a swim is about 65-kilometre weeks, with a bit of gym and a little bit on the stationary bike or treadmill as well as a long training swim,” said Mr Wieland.
“The swimming is really just to get the kilometres under my belt, hit the distances I need to and know that I am able to do the distance, then the gym work is to just ensure I stay strong, don’t get any injuries or fatigue too quickly.
“When I start my training plan however many weeks out if I have had some time off, I build up from 20 kilometres, up to 30 kilometres and then up to 65 kilometres.
“I usually keep my distance up until the day before my swim and then I just go for a light swim to make sure I am feeling good for my swim.”
As you can probably imagine, training so much can leave minimal time for socialising and time with friend’s but Mr Wieland doesn’t let that affect him.
“I normally train Monday through to Saturday either twice or three times a day,” said Mr Wieland.
“I usually try and do my long training swim on a Saturday morning at around 5 am or 6 am, so if I am going to be in there for a few hours, I can get it done earlier.
“By getting my swim done fairly early I can then go to the pub and have a few beers with the boys and just hang with mates.”
Ned’s ultra-marathon swimming experiences
Mr Wieland has travelled around the world to complete some pretty epic swims but when chatting to him there was no hesitation in what his favourite was.
“If I had to pick one swim as my favourite it would definitely be the Swim Around Manhattan,” said Mr Wieland.
“It’s a really enjoyable swim and isn’t as dirty as everyone says it is. While it is one of the longer swims it doesn’t feel that long because you are sightseeing the whole time.
“Everyone comes down to the docks and cheers you on and as you swim towards Harlem everyone comes down and waves at you and cheers really loud.
“It is also quite amazing to swim down the Hudson River and just see the city from the outskirts, you get to see it from a different perspective than just walking around.
“Looking up at all the tall skyscrapers towering over you is pretty incredible and it’s amazing seeing all the cruise ships and boats go past you.”
Out of all the ultra-marathon swims Mr Wieland has done, not only is the Swim Around Manhattan his favourite but also the swim he would recommend everyone to do.
“I would definitely recommend the Manhattan swim to anyone getting into the marathon swimming world,” said Mr Wieland.
“I mean the English Channel is meant to be the Everest of the channel swims, but everyone has a crack at it.
“I would say if you are looking for a fun and enjoyable swim, then the Swim Around Manhattan is the swim for you.”
A health discovery that changed his diet
While preparing for his English Channel Swim Mr Wieland was told he had to put on some weight around his neck and glands which meant he got to eat more ice cream, everyone’s dream right?
But it was after completing the swim when he tried to lose weight that he discovered he had type one diabetes.
“When I decided to do the English Channel swim, I went and saw a channel nutritionist and she said that I had to put on some weight around my neck and glands,” said Mr Wieland.
“So when I got told I got to eat ice cream, junk food, carb-heavy food and protein shakes, I was basically laughing. It’s everyone’s dream!
“It was after the swim, I struggled to lose the weight for a bit and then I suddenly started dropping weight all of a sudden including muscle.
“I didn’t feel sick or anything but I booked in to see my doctor and I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, they were unsure exactly how I got it but they think I was either born with it and just didn’t know or I caught a virus that prompted my body to have it after my Manhattan Swim.
“So that was a bit of a struggle finding out but I now just try to manage it through healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight.”
The North Bondi Classic
Mr Wieland has grown up in Bondi so it is a given that he loves competing in the North Bondi Classic each year.
“Doing the North Bondi Classic definitely feels like swimming on my home ground because I grew up around the north end of Bondi,” said Mr Wieland.
“Since I was little, my dad would take me out for a swim in the bay, sometimes even just two laps and I would love it.”
When asked what Mr Wieland’s favourite part of the North Bondi Classic was he replied “the great event followed by drinks on the rooftop”.
“The swim is definitely a fun one and you get to swim at Bondi which is such an iconic beach, so that is always a bonus.
“I love after finishing the swim going up and having drinks on the rooftop of North Bondi Surf Club and just admiring what you have swum and taking it all in from a different perspective while having a beverage with mates.”
There’s no stopping Mr Wieland from becoming the youngest male to complete the Oceans Seven of marathon swimming.
Next on his list of ultra-marathon swims to conquer is the Kaiwi Channel, a forty-two-kilometre swim between the islands of Molokai and Oahu in Hawaii.
“I am booked in to do the Molokai swim this year in June after having to originally postpone it in 2020 because of Covid,” said Mr Wieland.
“I’m booked in between 21st June to 29th June, so that is exciting.”
Before Mr Wieland heads off to swim in the warm Hawaiian waters, he wants to tick off a couple of training swims first.
“I am going to do the Swim The Gold Coast, which is twenty-one kilometres to get me prepared for Molokai,” said Mr Wieland.
“Ultimately the goal is to feel really good in the swim and then head over to Molokai and acclimatise for the swim.
“When I get over there, I’m planning on swimming at the beach every day just to get used to it because it will be quite hot since it’s the Hawaiian summer over there and the water is a bit saltier, so I want to get used to that.”
oceanswims.com will follow Mr Wieland on his journey to become the youngest to complete the Oceans Seven, keeping readers up to date.
*The Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming consists of three marathon swims: (1) 33.5 km across the English Channel between England and France, (2) 32.3 km across the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and the Southern California mainland in the United States, and (3) the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim or the 20 Bridges Circumnavigation Swim of Manhattan, a 45.9 km circumnavigation around Manhattan Island.
^ The Oceans Seven consists of a solo unassisted crossing of the following waterways around the world:
- North Channel 35 km between Northern Ireland and Scotland
- Cook Strait 23 km between the North Island and South Island of New Zealand
- Molokai Channel 42 km between Oahu and Molokai Islands in the State of Hawaii
- English Channel 33.5 km between England and France
- Catalina Channel 32.3 km between Catalina Island and the Southern California mainland
- Tsugaru Channel 19.5 km between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in northern Japan
- Strait of Gibraltar 14.4 km between Europe (Spain) and Africa (Morocco
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