Behind the Goggles of UltraSwim 33.3®: Swimmer 140

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Ahh Davina you amaze me. What an absolute pleasure to have met you and to have shared this incredible experience with you all X

Sarah Louise Brown 17 Oktober, 2023

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Behind the Goggles is a series of stories behind the scenes of UltraSwim 33.3® - an epic adventure swim race series™ challenging participants to swim 33.3km, the iconic distance of the English Channel in a new multi-day formatted event. 

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t… meet swimmer #140

Taking on any long distance swim if you’re not a seasoned swimmer is daunting. At the start line of UltraSwim 33.3® #2 Montenegro, there were more than a few doubts and nervous glances as 120 swimmers lined up on the pontoon of the Lazure Marina to take their first plunge. Even THEMAGIC5 founder Niklas Hedegaard, a seasoned pool swimmer, was apprehensive as he took on the challenge of his first open water competition. 

The unique selling point of a multi-day event format (in comparison to single-day events) is that stories surface, friendships blossom and performance constantly improves through shared tips and techniques. And, at the end of it all, the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming - and no more so for those who thought they wouldn’t make it through the 33.3km course.  

One of those people is swimmer #140, Davina Cull.

We only heard about Davina through her husband Nick, an experienced swimmer and coach, he finished way ahead of his wife on the first day and was found fidgeting by the finish line. 

“Are you waiting for someone?” 

“Oh hi, yeah, my wife Davina, she’ll be coming through soon,” he says with his eyes remaining glued to the finish line.

“You didn’t want to swim together?” the staff member asks. 

“No, Davina is swimming her own race in her own way. It’s really important for her,” he continues, still craning his neck to see if he can spot the bright pink 140 tow float coming around the corner.

Day 1 of UltraSwim was a 9km swim broken down into 4km and 5km swims from Lazure Marina, via Portonovi Beach Club and finishing in Forte Rose. As the conversation with Nick continued, it transpired that Davina only overcame her fear of water a few years ago after she drowned as a child and had to be resuscitated through CPR. “But she doesn’t really talk about it,” he explains. 

“Here she comes, she’s here!” he says to no one in particular. The second part of the sentence was lost anyway as Nick was already halfway down the beach ready to help his wife out of the water. Davina emerges visibly emotional and exhausted as they embrace. Nick’s clean, dry clothes he’d changed into post-swim were soaking wet again but he didn’t seem to care.  

He chats enthusiastically with his arm around her as she takes some deep breaths. They repeat this routine over the four days of UltraSwim 33.3 #2Montenegro at each finish line - with a particularly emotional moment at the end of the 10km marathon swim on day three. “She’ll have found this part really tough,” he says as he waits at the finish line, once again at Forte Rose. Upon arrival Davina staggers out of the water and Nick rushes to her side. “Are you okay? You okay?” She stays still for a few moments and covers her face. 

While most people will associate swimming with freedom, after a near-death drowning experience it can be associated with claustrophobia - especially when water gets up your nose. Generally speaking the conditions throughout the four day event in Montenegro were good, but not without some rough swells and currents - during the 10km marathon the first half was described by world record-holder Andy Donaldson as “like swimming on a treadmill.” 

As Davina swam the last 250m on the final day, having accomplished the entire 33.3km course, the atmosphere among the swimmers was electric. 

“I just didn’t know if I’d make it, I backed myself but I didn’t want to tell anyone my story until the final day,” she explains as she sits in the sand on Portonovi Beach Club. “This event has been something so different for me. When I was about 10 I was on holiday with a friend in Cornwall and this was back in the day when beaches weren’t really guarded and one day I was bodyboarding on those flimsy boards you have a kid and suddenly I was swept under with a rip tide. The board slammed into me and pushed all the air out of my stomach and to be honest I don’t remember much, but I do remember the sensation of sea water going in my nose and mouth and everything going dark.”

From that day on, swimming water was no longer a part of Davina’s life. No pools, no sea swims…nothing. It wasn’t until she saw her husband Nick take part in the Dart10km that she reconsidered. “I watched him and he was like a fish, he loves the water you know, and he was so relaxed and peaceful and… beautiful actually. I suddenly thought ‘I want to do that with you’.” 

After gradually acclimatising to a pool quite literally metre by metre and encouraged by her friend Rachel, it was the use of a nose clip that changed the game. By ensuring the water wouldn’t go up her nose, Davina’s swimming experience was transformed. 

“I was pushed to do it by a friend of mine, I’ve been swimming with Rachel (swimmer 137) and…” she tails off, still holding her finisher's glass of champagne. “I’m sorry I’ll get emotional about Rachel, it’s just she’s an incredible woman. She beats herself up about her performance but this morning on the transfer boat I just looked at her and thought ‘you look like a swimmer’ she just ‘belonged’ here.” 

The final day consisted of a fairly rough channel crossing between Croatia and Montenegro. “Fear never really goes away, today was the most scared I’ve been all event. At one point panic took over and I really thought it was happening again but then I saw the support kayak and reminded myself how far I’d come and I was like, I’m getting to that finish line!” 

“One thing that hit home about my marriage with Nick, is when he told me that UltraSwim 33.3 was my Silk Road Mountain Race (a race he recently completed), I knew at that point how much he understood what this meant to me,” she shares as she grips her finishers medal.

“This has been the most fantastic adventure I’ve ever done.” 

As Henry Ford famously said - whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, either way you’ll be right. 

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Ahh Davina you amaze me. What an absolute pleasure to have met you and to have shared this incredible experience with you all X

Sarah Louise Brown

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