Among hundreds of eager swimmers lining up for the first Rotorua Legend of the Lake, three athletes are winners before they even get wet.
Troy Rangi, 28, from Albany, Daniel Casbolt, 27, from Glen Eden and Tate Pishon, 18, from Muriwai are all members of the Special Olympics North Harbour swim squad.
Head swim coach Sarah O'Dwyer identified the Legend of the Lake as a great introduction to open water. It will be the trio's first competitive swim. O'Dwyer swims alongside them each week and is impressed with their unwavering dedication.
"They have done an incredible job with their fitness and not missed a training session. If ever I wasn't able to make it, one of their dads would go out with them on a kayak," she says.
"They have sheer determination and passion for the sport and to see them blossom into amazing young men has been the best reward I could ask for. They are going to have so much fun at the event, and the pride and self-confidence they will get from participating will be the icing on the cake."
Rangi, Casbolt and Pishon plan to compete in two more open-water swims this season - Sand to Surf at Mt Maunganui on March 12 and the final event in the Ocean Swim Series, North Shore King of the Bays, on April 2.
Swimming has been a regular focus for each of the young men in a life complicated daily by mental or physical disability. Rangi has been swimming for almost a decade, Casbolt for eight years and Pishon for four years.
"For Rangi and Casbolt, swimming is all about excitement and challenge. Rangi in particular is very competitive," says O'Dwyer.
"But for Pishon, it really brought him out of his shell. He has become more confident and social. Swimming is the best form of meditation."
Ocean Swim Series event organiser Scott Rice is delighted to welcome the young swimmers to the debut of the hotly anticipated Legend event.
"Our series caters for all ages and abilities and it attracts many inspirational people to take the plunge.
"Rangi, Casbolt and Pishon will be fierce competitors and are proof of what you can achieve if you put your mind to it."
As with all Ocean Swim Series events, Surf Life Saving New Zealand will provide water safety on the day. Naming the charity as beneficiary for the series was a no-brainer for Rice.
"SLSNZ do a fantastic job of keeping us all safe in the water and have saved countless Kiwi lives. They are also a charity, so it is important that we look after this initiative so that they are around to look after future generations."
The Special Olympians will participate in the mid-distance 1000m swim, and wear purple caps to distinguish them from other swimmers. O'Dwyer is mindful of the challenges each will face on event day.
"For Rangi and Pishon, the distance and amount of people in the swim will be challenging, and Pishon will have to concentrate on direction. We will walk the course the night before so we are prepared."
Despite Casbolt's competitive nature, coach O'Dwyer insists Legend of the Lake is all about having fun.
"Rather than aiming to win, the goal is to just do their best - have fun, be a team and stick together, that's what it's all about.
"When they cross the finish line, they will congratulate each other and give themselves a pat on the back. If they win, that's a bonus."
Also lining up will be elite swimmers and 2015 series winners Nathan Capp and Charlotte Webby.
Legend of the Lake
1000m open water swim
Sunday, February 28
Blue Lake, Rotorua
For more information: