Blue skies and clear water greeted Father Greg Trythall on Sunday morning 28 December when he notched up 1000 consecutive Sunday swims in Australian waters with a 200 metre swim at Williamstown.
Father Greg entered the water just before 7am and swam freestyle out to the western buoy and back.
The odyssey began in November 1994. “I tried to form a habit by swimming 10 Sundays in a row. Then after trying for 20 somehow along the way I tried for 50, then 100. And the rest is history.”
More than 700 of the swims were at Torquay, where Greg was the parish priest for many years. (“I swam at the front beach, not the surf beach.”)
Over 50 of the swims have been in the warm waters of Byron Bay, where Greg spends his annual holidays.
And just over 200 of the swims have been at Williamstown, where Greg has been St Mary’s parish priest since April 2010.
“There were also two Sunday swims in Perth, in 1998 and 2008, during the National Council of Priests bi-annual Conference. And one Sunday I swam at the beautiful Yamba beach in Northern New South Wales.
“ In May 2003 I left Australia for six months sabbatical leave and had already notched up 443 swims not out since November 1994. When I was about to return to Australia, I realized that I had not missed any Sunday swims in Australia since 1994. Rightfully I could continue where I left off as I had not missed one while in Australia.”
Greg’s pattern of swimming is almost every Wednesday and Friday during year, but never miss a 7am Sunday swim before church services.
“While overseas on sabbatical in 2003 and again in 2010 and following the footsteps of Jesus, the footsteps of St Paul and the footsteps of the Australian soldier (as a former National Service man 1968-1970) I swam at: Gallipoli (37 degree day), Sharm El Sheik(45 degree day) El Alamein (perfect blue waters), and Alexandra (with about 2,000,000 Egyptians).”
Greg has also swum at Xlendi in Gozo, Malta, the Dead Sea, the Black Sea, the Red Sea. France, Honolulu, and Maui.
“At one stage I had worked out I had swum from A- Z, with Z being Zeally Bay, on the Geelong side of the Torquay front beach.”
Amongst Father Greg’s well wishers (his acquatic apostles?) on Sunday was his Torquay mate Carl Tracey, who left his home at 5am to witness the achievement. Carl, a keen surfer, brought not only his good wishes and friendship, but congratulatory signs.
“I first realized the value of the sea as a teenager from Footscray,” recalled Father Greg, “when my parents and I would come down to Williamstown beach.”
When the family move to Parkdale, in Melbourne’s southern beach suburbs, Greg found swimming good for counteracting hayfever and eczema.
“Although I love the effects of the beach and the great feeling of wellbeing on the days that you swim, my main love affair has been with sport. I’ve been a former runner, boxer, footballer, cricketer and squash player. At 67, my sporting passion is now golf.
“It is a pity I was never taught technique in swimming. Accordingly, I have always been a relatively poor swimmer. I only swim about 100 to 200 metres each time I have a dip. The last time I swam the Lorne Pier to Pub, in 1990, I took pride in the fact that I came third in my category of over 40s: that is, I was third last!”
“ When you know the health benefits of the swimming and one has got into the habit then even winter cannot stop one if there is sufficient motivation and self discipline. Even saying that, there are those once or twice occasions during the year, and it is one of the coldest, wettest, windiest days and the seawater looks dirty for some reason, then though you are changing on the foreshore, it would be very easy just to spit the dummy!
“ On those days I might start singing some song just to get my mind off the sheer cold of the conditions, like ‘ Zippety do da zippety day, my o my what a wonderful day!’ Or other old songs like ‘ If you knew Susie like I know Susie, oh what a wonderful girl.’ Usually no one else is around!
“My toughest swims have probably been the nights after the Saturday night wedding receptions when I have had a few drinks, or the night after the annual debutante balls that the Parish of Grovedale/ Torquay use to have year in and year out. Even on those days I always felt better for the swim and I believed I always treated people better because of it.
“Spiritually the only main reason I have kept on swimming every Sunday is that I have always valued the work I am able to do for people as a priest. I value my job so much that I believe being happy and enthusiastic in it is my number one priority. Running and swimming have always been a means to and end and that is being at the top of my game in being healthy and enthusiastic for a job I have felt a calling to do for people.”
“If one is unhappy or lacking enthusiasm then I am not much benefit to people who are grieving and want me to perform a good job for their loved one at a funeral.
“Likewise, we have had 67 weddings at St Mary’s Williamstown in 2014. I am no good to young couples if I am a boring, tired or sick old man!”
“I am not a strong enough swimmer to join more capable swimmers. I sometimes envy their abilities or great technique but I am basically more than happy with my own lot in life. One would like to be a great singer or musician or dancer. I applaud others with those abilities and thank a higher power for my own good gifts, without wishing to be the most liked or the best looking or the most intelligent!
“I am a poor swimmer but consistent!”
Next Sunday Father Greg will be back in the water again. “I’ll see if I can do 10 Sundays in a row. Don’t want to get ahead of myself.”