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Swimming with leeches and yabbies: Col Pearse Para-Swimmer, training during COVID-19

April 6, 2020
Sport Access Foundation

Swimmer Col Pearse always jokingly referred to the dam on his family's dairy farm at Echuca, in northern Victoria, as the "Pearse Aquatic Centre".

But when the coronavirus social-distancing restrictions came into force, the gag became a reality as the only way he could keep training for the Tokyo Paralympics.

"It's always been a bit of a joke about swimming in the dam and once they said all pools in Victoria are closed Mum looked at me and said, 'Yep, we're getting it done tomorrow'," Pearse said.

"Mum was the brains of the whole set up."

The family crafted the pool blocks with wood and steel posts and made the lane ropes with orange juice bottles.

It functions well but does have its hazards.

"So, there are leeches, fish and yabbies," Pearse said.

"I had an encounter with a leech yesterday on my foot, which wasn't too bad. I sort of yanked it off and threw it back into the water."

Training at the 'Pearse Aquatic Centre' means sharing lanes with leeches and yabbies.(Supplied: Col Pearse)

The bigger challenge for the 16-year-old is training for what he considers his strongest stroke: backstroke.

"Obviously I'm out in the dam so there's no roof or anything to guide me in a straight line, there's no proper flags for knowing where you are in the water, but really you just use what you've got," Pearse said.

"We've done the best we can." After he won a bronze medal in the S10 100m butterfly at the World Championships in London last year, Pearse had his eyes set on a good performance in Tokyo.

He just needs to overcome Victoria's winter weather first.

"When I first jumped in it was freezing," he said.

"It's really only the weather I'm concerned about 'cause I could easily get crook or swallow some dirty water.

"But look, when you love the sport that much you'll do anything to train really."

Editors notes: Published on ABC News -


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