• Marathon Swimming

Lynton Mortensen: From Oceans Seven to Ice Mile

An injury converted Lynton Mortensen from a successful Oceans Seven marathon swimmer to an acclaimed Ice Miler and now Hall of Famer.

Lynton Mortensen took up distance swimming 12 years ago for rehab after tearing his bicep from the bone during a playful sand fight with his kids at on a Gold Coast beach.

Fast-forward to 2024, and Mr Mortensen is considered one of Australia’s most accomplished marathon swimmers, including the title of the first Australian and the 12th person worldwide to complete the challenging Oceans Seven.

Now, Mr Mortensen is hooked on a new challenge of becoming an ice swimmer, having successfully swam in the North Pole and, most recently, the South Pole.

“In 2012, over Easter, I was having a sand fight with my kids at Currumbin. I was running in ankle-deep water, and my brain was telling me I could bend, scoop, collect sand, and throw it all at once,” said Mr Mortensen.

“Unfortunately, that was not the case, and my arm got sucked into the sand while I was running at full speed, so my arm stayed there, and my body went right past it. All I heard was an all-mighty crack.

“I thought I had broken my arm, but I had just torn the bicep right off the bone. I ended up needing surgery to reattach it back on.”

During Mr Mortensen’s rehab, he discovered a love of swimming, especially distance swimming, which is where his marathon swimming journey began.

“After the surgery, it was a 6 to 12-month rehab. I couldn’t lift a 1kg weight for the first 3 to 4 months, and I could barely move my hand,” said Mr Mortensen.

“So, I decided to start swimming and I started with 100 metres, which then led to 500 metres, then I got to one kilometre and then came five kilometres and then ten kilometres and so on.

“I really enjoyed it, so I decided to tackle my first distance race in 2015, the 10km Balmoral Ocean Swim in Sydney.

“From here, I went on to challenge myself to do the Oceans Sevens and a few other marathon swims around the world.”

Oceans Seven record

Mr Mortensen completed Oceans Seven in 2018 in two years and 60 days, making him the first Australian to do so and what was the fastest completion of all channels at the time, but that wasn’t without some eventful mishaps.

“I was lucky enough to achieve all seven channels on the first attempt apart from the Molokai Channel,” said Mr Mortensen.

“This was incredibly lucky because the unpredictability of the currents, wind, and swells in the channels can make it extremely hard to get it first go, so I was very thankful for that.

“Not getting Molokai Channel the first time was quite the story—I got the call-up saying I had to be there in 48 hours because my original slot was a week away and was predicted to be blown out by the trade winds.

“So, I talked to my wife and jumped on a flight the next morning to Oahu, then got on another flight to Molokai. I hadn’t had any food preparation or anything, so I grabbed a dirty burger at the airport and headed straight to the beach to meet my boat pilot, whom I had never met before, and start the swim.

“I started swimming at about 5 pm and swam through the night. The swim was going great until we had about three to five kilometres to go. That is when it all went downhill. I just felt this all-mighty bang on my leg, and it felt like I was being electrocuted. I had been stung by a box jellyfish. I continued to swim, but then I got stung again under my arms, then again across my stomach, and again in my armpit.

“It was at this stage I had Irukandji Syndrome and could barely move because my body was shutting down. I had to be pulled onto the boat and was taken via ambulance to the hospital and placed in ICU. The real kicker is that two weeks prior, I had stepped on a stonefish at Snapper Rocks and was in ICU as well, so my body was still recovering, and my platelets shot.

“Once out of the ICU, about 10 days later, I went back and attempted the Molokai Channel again, with the help of some box jellyfish antivenom barrier cream made by world box jellyfish expert Angel Yanagihara. I got stung twice, but the barrier cream helped immensely, and I was lucky enough to finish it successfully the second time around.”

Into the ice cold water

After completing Oceans Seven, Mr Mortensen injured his neck during a 10-km swim in his backyard from Burleigh to Surfers Paradise. This forced him to look for other challenges, and he came across Ice Swimming.

“I was doing the 10km swim from Burleigh to Surfers Paradise with a mate, and the swell was quite large,” said Mr Mortensen.

“I got picked up and taken over the falls of a wave and was just thrown around like a rag doll, which ended up giving me whiplash on my neck.

“After months and months of physio, I still couldn’t turn my head, I had to turn my whole body to breathe, so the longer distances weren’t working for me. This is where I reached out to Ram Barkai, the founder of the International Ice Swimming Association, whom I met a few times on my travels with the marathon swims.

“He tried to get me to do one previously, but I always said that I was happy with marathon swimming because that was my thing. But because of my neck, I told him I was ready to give it a crack, so I signed up to go on his trip to the Arctic Circle to complete an Extreme Ice Mile.”

Swimming in the Arctic Circle

In May 2022, Mr Mortensen braved the icy waters of the Arctic Circle and completed his first extreme ice mile (1.6km) in -1 degree water in 33 minutes 56 seconds.

“Being my first ice swim, I was a bit intimidated because I was with all these experienced international ice swimmers, and then there’s me, who has never done one before,” said Mr Mortensen.

“The water was slightly colder than we had been expecting, at -1 degrees, and then the air temperature was -10 to -15 degrees. Because of this, some of the swimmers decided to cut their ice mile back to an ice kilometre, but I had gone all that way, so I decided to go ahead and give the ice mile a crack.

“It was a tough swim because your arms and legs go heavy and feel like you have cement blocks on them because your body starts shutting down like turning off the house lights at night. My hands and feet are the first lights to switch off as the brain sends blood from my extremities to protect my vital organs.

“The recovery post-swim was some of the hardest because I could barely pull myself out of the ladder to get out of the water, and then I could barely walk. I was in so much pain I could barely talk. It felt like someone was smashing my hands and feet with hammers.

“While you are really cold, the problem is you can’t warm up too quickly because if you do, the cold blood going to your brain can kill you, so it’s a slow and painful process.”

Caught the ice swimming bug

You would think the tough and painful recovery from an extreme ice swim would deter Mr Mortensen, but it did the complete opposite. He has now caught the ice swimming bug, having recently completed the Beagle Channel and an agonising 1km ice swim in Antarctica.

“I just got back from doing a 1km ice swim in Antarctica in 1-degree water, which was incredible. I wish I could have done an ice mile, but unfortunately, logistics didn’t permit it,” said Mr Mortensen.

“I did this swim in 17 minutes 22 seconds, and while it was 600 metres shorter than my previous ice swim in the Arctic, the recovery was much easier.

“Don’t get me wrong; the swim was tough, and you still have to deal with the burning and heaviness of your arms and legs as the blood leaves them. This time round, I was buzzing.

“Your body is the best pharmacy in the world, and it was like a pinball machine just pinging off. I was really energetic when I finished, and the recovery didn’t take as long. I had a shower in miserable water pressure, warmed up quite quickly and was back out supporting those in the next swim.”

Becoming a Hall of Famer

Mr Mortensen’s incredible achievements have earned him an induction into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame later this year, but that hasn’t stopped him from planning his next lot of swims.

“I’m doing the Lake Argyle Marathon Swim in May, which is a stark contrast from my ice kilometre I’ve just done,” said Mr Mortensen.

“I’ll be going from 1-degree to 28-degree water, so that will be a tough one for many different reasons.

“Then I’m going to look at doing a few different ice and cold water swims around the place, one of which is the Magellan Strait, which I have wanted to do for years.

“Then when I go to Mexico for the International Hall of Fame induction, I’ll do a 10km.

“Next year in April, I have signed up for the SCAR Swim in Arizona, which is swimming in four lakes over four days with the total being about 65 kilometres. That will be one of the most incredible swims, I think, because the scenery is going to be stunning.”

Events discussed in this article

  • Written by Suzie Ryan on 19 March 2024
  • (Updated on 19 March 2024)

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