Swimming: Amputee relishes ocean swim from Russell to Pahia

By Peter Thorley

If you think swimming 3.3km in next weekend's State Paihia Classic is too far, know that if Russell's Margot Forrest can swim it with just one leg, your excuses are looking a little thin.

Forrest, who had her left leg amputated five years ago, said the water has become her natural habitat.

"I get a real sense of freedom in the water, particularly after the first five minutes or so when you get over the pain and get into the zone - you can almost forget you're missing a leg," she said.

The 59-year-old occupational therapist noticed a lump on her leg after a cycling incident when she was living in Tauranga in 2007 and got it checked out.

"It turned out to be a rare form of cancer but it was the last thing I was expecting because it didn't even feel sore. It stopped me breathing for a while when I was told I'd have to lose my leg, it was such a shock," he said.

The loss of her left limb didn't hold her back for long. She swam her first Russell to Paihia race two years ago and went on to compete in four of the five races in the State New Zealand Ocean Swim Series.

She's not expecting too many problems when the race gets under way on Saturday morning but said the change in dates from early December to early November had made it more difficult to train.

"It's pretty chilly out there, so I haven't really prepared as much as I would have liked and when I have, I've stayed in the shallows because ... I've been worried about cramping," she said.

Attracting training partners in the cold water has been a problem but she thinks it is as much psychological as anything.

Fortunately she spent time in North America over winter and took the opportunity, when she wasn't hiking with her Californian-born partner Bob Drey, to do some open water swimming in the lakes and rivers.

Forrest is an example of how someone can overcome adversity and now spends her working day encouraging those with permanent and temporary disabilities to set and achieve realistic goals to get their lives back on track.

Saturday's Paihia Classic is expected to attract 800 swimmers and will see some of Australasia's elite swimmers rub shoulders with recreational swimmers like Forrest. Australian Olympians Ky Hurst and Melissa Gorman and the fastest man ever to swim the English Channel, Trent Grimsey, will battle it out with New Zealand's best, Kane Radford and Cara Baker.

Racing gets under way for all classes after the 9pm briefing.

- Northern Advocate

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