Kevin Pollman, Winner of Apolima Strait 2019 at the Awards presentation at Amoa Resort
Kevin was first across the line in the 5th Apolima Strait swim between Upolu and Savai’i in a time of 6h 17m 15s. He swam perfect race and was true to his pre-race plan of six-hours for the 22.3 km distance. Assisting him was his girlfriend Katie who was his swim captain. The two arrived in Samoa a few days earlier to see the sights and experience Samoa. Two days after the swim we met up with Kevin on the eve of their departure for Minnesota where their home is. We asked Kevin about his experience, this is a transcript of that interview.
Give us your thoughts on your swim now that you have had two days to process the swim.
It was an amazing experience, a well organised event with great competitors that were out there. The people that do this stuff it really makes it worthwhile the experiences you make along the way. It is always good to have a nice finish and a good time but it really is about the experience and the journey along the way. It was absolutely incredible and humbling.
Kevin with his Citizenship of Savai'i Race certificate
What are the benefits of the Warm-up swim?
I think it depends on the experience level of the swimmer. Every person is going to get a different mileage out of the warm-up swim. I would consider myself an experienced swimmer and I still felt that it was very helpful to get out to the channel marker and get a feel for the course because there is a large boat running the course regularly throughout the event and to make sure that safety is a priority and to know where to go along the way is very critical. I thought it was a good thing.
How important was the course inspection to Savai’i before the race?
Very important to go on the ferry ride. What you see from Upolu looking across the Strait is very different. It is not exactly night and day but you get a different feel for places to sight as you get closer to Savai’i. It can be deceiving while you are out on the course because the main town is in the centre of the island and you do not want to be aiming for that. It is very deceiving while you are out there so to know exactly where you are going the closer you get is invaluable. I am very happy that we participated in that.
Did it benefit to know the finish line?
I think so, you know we had the buoys out on the course and that made it easier in the actual swim. But for me at that stage of the race I wasn’t thinking about the course I just wanted to get to the finish but it was good to have that sense of familiarity the closer you got I knew I have been here before and I know where to go.
Please comment on the accommodation
The Sheraton out here, I am looking at it right now. I have the view of Apolima Island and Manono Island. It is incredible scenery. Then the Amoa accommodation on Savaii, really finishing the race and not having to worry about getting back here and just really settle in for the evening was a really nice feeling especially after getting out of the water after a long day’s race.
How important was it to have a Swim captain to control the swim for you?
For me it was very important. Having someone that knows my swimming capability and who has a feel about how I’m doing in the water and then looking at it as an impartial observer that can make an objective call if things are going well or not going well. That is important because every swimmer has shades of optimism about their personal fitness, sometimes you need that objective third party to evaluate the situation and offer advice on the swim.
The Solo Swimmers at the Caps presentation - Kevin, Linda Collard, Mark Gillon,
Jacques de Reuck (2018) was the Keynote speaker.
Every swim around the world has its own special qualities. What were the special qualities of Apolima Strait for you?
I think the special quality of a race like this is the destination. This has been an incredible location to visit and the people and the scenery in the swim was amazing. The water while you are out there, I was telling my crew that it was almost hypnotising being in the water. It was so blue and so clear, the sun comes through and the rays just go down to this pint that you can’t tell whether it is 10m down or 100m down and it is just this abyss at the bottom and it is hypnotising to be down there. The sense of freedom to be in the channel is very hard for me to describe but is a peaceful feeling to be out there.
One other thing I would say about the race is that there are different islands that are on the horizon that can help you as you are progressing through the race that you can see. There’s Manono and there’s Apolima you get a feel and ask am I making progress. That’ rewarding because a lot of the swim is a mental challenge and to have those checkpoints along the way really helps the swimmer manage through the course.
Can you comment on the quality of your support boat?
I did ask Katy about the boat and she felt it was certainly a sea worthy vessel. She did not have any issues about the boat.
Can you comment about the safety of the swim?
In any channel swim or open water swim I think safety is the first priority. I certainly felt those sentiments from the race director. I felt the safety culture that was delivered – we had the motorised boat and we had the kayak – just having those two layers of safety in the swim, plus there were two police boats monitoring the situation and radio communication between the parties. All this stuff when the athlete when we are out there it is the last thing we want to be thinking about. That is very nice to have those precautions taken and thought through and taken seriously and again that’s the top priority and I felt that from the start to finish.
How was the Caps presentation for you?
I am going to expand this beyond the caps presentation and talk a little bit about the event – we had the warm up swim on Tuesday along with the ferry ride, then the caps presentation on Wednesday followed by the swim, and then Friday a little time to decompress and then there was the awards presentation. It is not just the swim by itself because that is the race, there is the broader event. The whole event comes closer together in the course of a couple of days. And certainly the caps presentation is a part of that, when you take everything in together it’s a humbling experience. Sharing that experience with people coming in and taking the challenge the following day is a source of motivation and you also pay your respects to the people that have done this in the past. It’s humbling to cross that big body of water.
What do you think of the Awards that you were presented with?
This Citizenship and the handcrafted medal are definitely very cool. For me as a lifelong swimmer when you swim as a kid there are a lot of medals and awards. But when you get something that has that is handcrafted and you feel that a sense of uniqueness those to me are the special ones. We have a couple of them here, and I will cherish these and keep them dear to my heart. It is a good way to commemorate the experience.
This has been great. I really appreciate it.
Linda showing plenty of resolve at 4 pm in the middle of Apolima Strait between Apolima island and
the headland of Savaii. She has been 10hrs in the water and still 3h 21m to the finish.
Eventually it had to come. Two swimmers from this year’s swim are the first to go beyond 12-hours to complete the 4th Apolima Strait swim. Mark Gillon and Linda Collard both of New Zealand took over 12 hours to complete the swim. Mark clocked 12h 29m 28s and Linda 13h 21m 29s.
For any swimmer, time was not important. Finishing the swim is the goal. To that end Mark and Linda’s achievements this year is exceptional for this reason, from the visuals we have as they approached the finish they were in good frame of mind and looked physically strong. Their strokes and stroke rate did not let up. They were stronger at the finish than seen earlier in the day.
When we caught up with Linda for the last time it was 3:59 pm, three and half hours before she crossed the finish line at Lusia’s Chalets. She had been in the water since 6am that morning, a full 10hrs by the time we left her side.
She was safe, she had Claire her swim captain on the kayak, and the support boat was a few meters away. Mark was the same but on the opposite side of the course to the north. In the end he proved closer to the middle than did Linda. Mark finished 41 minutes ahead of Linda – and neither looked the worst for wear.
Mark Gillon in the calm waters of the home stretch at Lusia's Lagoon
It means they met the time challenge and with plenty left in store. They were more than equal to the time challenge. Neither swimmer had any doubt that they would not reach the finish or entertained any thought of pulling out. That makes their achievements that much bigger.
Both swimmers are at least two hours better than their respective finish times. But then we would not have made a start on the 12-hour club.
Well done Mark and Linda.