Accomplishing an ambition while engaging in the game of life before turning 50 has seen Steve McKain become the 48th person to tick the box in a solo swim crossing challenge in Taupo.

McKain's wife, Terri, and parents, Cherilyn and Allan, are extremely proud of their 49-year-old husband and son but they didn't warm up to the idea when he first suggested it last year.

"They were pretty quiet when I told them," said McKain who tamed the 40.2 Lake Taupo Marathon Swim in 13h 53s last Saturday.

Terri, he says, wasn't keen on him doing it but resigned to the fact McKain was going to go ahead so she got behind him all the way.


"It was only last Saturday so it hasn't really sunk in yet," says the Clive resident who works as an orchard manager for Mr Apple in Hastings. "I'm off the mindset now that my goal is gone so what am I going to do now?"

However, McKain is aware he needs to reflect on his accomplishment.

"It's a huge goal at my age so it proves that other athletes at the [Triathlon Hawke's Bay] club who have inspired me are just normal people who have jobs and families so it's just an absolutely incredible thing," he says of a contingent of triathletes who competed in the Suki Triathlon New Zealand National Sprint Championship the following day.

McKain is no longer a triathlon club member and has returned to swimming.

He didn't have to reach far for happy thoughts although concentrating on his technique took up most of his mental space.

"That I was in a lake, not the sea and there was only trout," he says with a laugh.

Focusing on his technique means he had slowed right down to finding a modicum of cohesiveness and rhythm on his arms and legs while rotating his body and positioning his head correctly.

"Outside of that I also think about meeting my family at the finish and everyone who was watching me on the tracker and thinking, 'I ain't going to give up' and, thinking, you know, I'll have to go pay for all those people I'll fail so that's what keeps you going," McKain says.


He started the swim at 3.40am that Saturday, which meant he was in pitch darkness for about the first couple of hours.

"You want to get to the other side before it gets dark," he says although it also meant less time spent in the scorching sun.

No doubt the mirror-like conditions also aided in a more energy-saving spell.
Legendary swimmer Philip Rush, who was in a 40-foot launch with the skipper and McKain's father as support crew, gave him a three-day window.

"I thought it would be Friday but he said, "Nah, Saturday looks better' — I thought he was wrong but he certainly knows what he's talking about because it turned out to be a really good day," he says with a grin of Rush.

"It was quite bumpy in the dark and it was quite disorientating but when the sun comes up and you get reference points ... so we had just about three hours or four of just glass."

It did get a little turbulent with about 8km to go but by then it had dawned on McKain that he was going to make the finish line.

Rules are strict, adhering to those applicable to marathons, so Rush comes in handy to officially sign off competitors. They include not wearing wetsuits, receiving no help from passing boats or anyone in the water.

"Philip motivates you the whole way," he says. "He tells you, 'Hey this is what you're doing with your stroke and if it's getting a little labour on one side."

McKain adhered to a nutrition programme which Rush adjusted as he saw fit on the foundation of having crossed countless channels in his heyday.

"He can basically look at your eyes and tell you what you need," he says. "He's knows how to motivate so that's why he's your best chance of getting across.

He took electrolyte supplements, including liquid food containing carbohydrates and protein fat, to stave off cramps and fatigue. He did consume the odd banana and a sandwich, too.

"Philip had said feeding was not resting so you feed-go, feed-go," he says of the process that entailed 20 seconds maximum.

Steve McKain with wife Terri and their children, Issac, 5, and Jacob, 3, after he crossing Lake Taupo. Photo/supplied
Steve McKain with wife Terri and their children, Issac, 5, and Jacob, 3, after he crossing Lake Taupo. Photo/supplied

After a decade of trying to tame currents in ocean swims over 3-5km, McKain acquired an awareness of his natural ability to do longer distances. The 10km race beckoned and then the 17km one followed.

"I then started playing with the idea of doing one big point-to-point solo swim in my life before I get too old," he said.

It helped that McKain had been in contact with Hayley Underwood, of Taupo, who was a friend of a friend and had done the crossing last year.

"It was pretty much from that phone call that I decided I was going to train for it."

It struck a chord with him that Underwood, of a similar age as him, was a mother of four whose training regime fitted around a weekly routine from the time she dropped off her children to school and picked them up.

"I thought if she can find the time to train, as a busy mother, I thought I can find the time to train as well," he says, revealing they have two sons, Isaac, 5, and Jacob, 3.

McKain emphasises Underwood had unequivocal support from her family and so did he, which had teed him up mentally for the challenge.

He was peaking at 50km of swimming in training a week, averaging up to 17 hours over that duration. He covered 5km to 10km daily although the bulk of it was in a swimming pool and the odd day at Hardinge Rd.

Every so often he had visited Lake Taupo for dress rehearsals from 6am until lunchtime before driving back home.

The former Flaxmere Primary and Hastings Boys' High School student didn't take swimming seriously until he was in his late 30s.

"I really like being in the water. If you have a passion for water it makes it a lot easier," says the bloke who made a few adjustments to his stroke and didn't looked back.

The Cook Strait Challenge beckons now but McKain reckons he's done his dash although the lake one is a good indicator that he's capable.

"If I put the time I can do it but in the last 18 months I have really dug into quite a bit of family time so I really want to get back to spending time with my family."

However, he has a 20km Chopper Challenge to do from Waiheke Island to Auckland in a charity challenge to raise funds for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter next month.

He intends to have a go at the remaining two races of the inaugural HB Ocean Swim Series which he couldn't do because of his lake-training sessions.


1955: Margaret Sweeney, of Auckland, first person to swim across solo at Lake Taupo although it was about 2km shorter than the current distance of 40.2km. She swam from the Stump Bay pine tree to the Lake Taupo Yacht Club in 13h 29m.

1977: That's how long it took for a bloke, Patrick Cox, of Taupo, to emulate Sweeney's feat in 12h 54m. Bill Rout, of Cambridge, followed suit in 11h 31m.

1981: John Coutts, of Napier, became the last person from Hawke's Bay to emulate that feat in 11h 39m but his first double attempt (swimming back same time) was aborted.

January 14, 1985: Dunedin-born Philip Rush, now living in Lower Hutt, became the first person to swim the double in 23h 5m.

March 10, 1985: Philip Rush posted the fastest individual time for one way in swimming the distance in 10h 14m 58s from Little Waihi to the yacht club, the longest point-to-point crossing at Lake Taupo.

February 27, 1986: Sandra Blewett, of Auckland, became the first female to do the double crossing in 33h 21m.

February 4, 2019: Helen Conway reportedly made the first north-to-south crossing in 14h 43min.

February 9, 2019: Steve McKain, of Clive, clocked 13h 53s, with Philip Rush among his support crew, to become the 48th person to do it.