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The ocean as the great calibrator

Rosie Ning talks to mother of two autistic children, Irene Turner, about how ocean swimming calibrates her mindset and enables her to face her everyday challenges.

Words by Rosie Ning

Do you remember the last time you dipped your toes in the sea?

How it made you feel?

Did you carry that feeling home with you for the rest of that day, night or week?

For some people, the feeling they get from ocean swimming calibrates their mindset and enables them to face their everyday challenges.

It could be fair to say that dependents, though dearly loved, are often the instigators of these challenges. Add in a dependent with a health disorder, such as Autism, and the challenge level is multiplied.

Autism is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour. Autism has a few aliases, it can be known as Austism, Autism Spectrum Disorder and ASD. It is one end of the neurodiverse spectrum for social norms. Autism can be classified as mild (ASD 1), moderate (ASD 2) and severe (ASD 3).

Ocean swimmer, Irene Turner, has 2 sons, her eldest with ASD 1 (mild) and her youngest with ASD 3 (severe) meaning he requires round-the-clock supervision. I met with Irene about what it takes for her to get an ocean swim in, and does she think it’s worth the effort.

Rosie: Is leaving your house a simple task?

Irene: Leaving the house for 5 hours requires planning, (Irene lives a 90-minute drive from the ocean). Having brekky, morning tea and lunch pre-prepared. Organising a carer to mind one child whilst my husband takes the other to sporting events. Making sure medications are administered at the correct time in a specific order. Clothes laid out, sports kit packed, water bottles filled etc. and that’s before I have even got myself dressed and ready to go.

Is it easy? NO. It’s not easy. But I’d do it every morning if it means I could get into the ocean for some R n R!

Irene, 2nd from right, bobbing around with fellow ocean swimmers

What is it about the ocean that draws you out for a swim?

Being in the ocean is the one place where I can completely switch off from the challenges and responsibilities that I endure on a daily basis. Swimming in the vast big blue requires me to be in the here and now. Navigating through the waves, reading the current, surrendering to – yet swimming with – the swell. Not to mention enjoying the fish, rays and the odd dolphin!

Diving under the surface to the sound of a whale song is mesmerising.

And then there is the act of swimming itself! My swim mastery coach, Tracy Beauman, always says that you should get out of the water a better swimmer than when you entered, after all, what else do you have to do out there other than improve your technique, one stroke at a time?

Last, but not least, my ocean tribe. Like-minded swimmers who bob about in the ocean with me. We have each other’s back in more ways than one.

I love and respect the ocean. I’m in awe of its power, its ability to calm me even when the waves are thrashing about and the wind is blowing up a storm.

It’s my happy place, my sanctuary, my lifeline.

Swimming in the pool provides me with the physical exercise I need and another tribe with whom I can connect. But it doesn’t allow me to fully relinquish myself to the water. A 90min drive for even a 2k ocean swim is more than worth it!

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 30 September 2022
  • (Updated on 4 August 2023)



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