Overcoming Your Fears: Learn to Ocean Swim

by Marty Pinkstone 31 Jan 2018

Lara Solomon took on the challenge of swimming 2km in the sea after signing up to the Can Too Foundation's learn to ocean swim program.

Originally from the UK but living in Sydney, I decided last year that I wanted to learn to ocean swim properly, rather than breaststroke, so I signed up with the Can Too Foundation.

Can Too was started in 2005 by Annie Crawford as “an opportunity to believe in people until they believe in themselves. We go to great lengths to create a supportive, safe environment for people to learn to ocean swim.”

Learning to ocean swim with the Can Too Foundation costs $200 (about £100) to register, and comes with a commitment to fundraise at least $1,350 (about £700) for cancer research and prevention.

The programme consists of one lesson in the pool and one in the ocean each week for 14 weeks, ending in a goal swim of 1km or 2.8km at the Macquarie Big Swim.

Tears and Panic Attacks

The pool sessions are about stroke correction, breathing and fitness. My pool has six lanes, lane one for the fastest swimmers, lane six for the slowest swimmers. The first Wednesday night I was welcomed, handed a bright orange swim cap and told to get into the lane I thought most suited my ability. Obviously most people piled into lanes five and six, but within a couple of laps people were moved up, some to lane one! Knowing that I couldn’t swim freestyle with my head in the water, I was a definite lane sixer.

In lane six we had our own coach. I found the first lesson hard, not physically but mentally. I just couldn’t swim with my head in the water, I panicked and got water up my nose. At the end of the session I cried. I also
cried after sessions two and three!


I was looking forward to the first Saturday of ocean training. Most people doing the programme could swim but had fears around swimming in the ocean, whereas I didn’t have ocean fears – I just couldn’t swim! As the weeks of training went on, I realised that if I wore a nose clip and breathed through my mouth I panicked less. I started swimming on my own in the ocean, practising breathing. When I started I could only do seven strokes before having a panic attack and stopping. Three weeks later (and two to three extra swims a week) I could slowly swim 300m with my head in the water.

“There will always be setbacks, but there will also be breakthroughs," says Can Too ocean swim coach Matt Renshaw. "It takes time! Which is why we use the whole summer to get people ready for race day.”

Part of the reason I signed up with the Can Too Foundation was that both of my parents died from cancer. Each week before the pool sessions we had people come and talk to us, from the cancer researchers who had benefited
from money raised, to other swimmers and cancer survivors. Since 2005, Can Too Foundation’s community has fundraised nearly $19 million, investing in 147 cancer researchers and reducing the risk of lifestyle-related cancers for
more than 14,000 participants.

Hugs and Well-Done's

My goal swim was in January, when I swam 1km. It took me a while, but I did it! I then felt so confident that I signed up for the 2km swim at Bondi two weeks later (I think I might have been drunk). Hilariously this forced
all of my new swimming friends to sign up, because they weren’t going to not do it if I was. The 2km swim was hard, very hard. I had a panic attack before I got in the water and started crying (a combination of the race and
thinking about my Mum and Dad). Luckily, another Can Tooer talked me through it – afterwards she said that she didn’t think I’d go in, but you may have gathered I am pretty determined.

She swam with me, and at the first buoy I said: “I’ll be fine, you go.” She was worried and asked Annie Crawford, founder and chair of the Can Too Foundation, to swim with me for a bit. Annie was amazing. I am very competitive and didn’t want to come last. When I told Annie this, she replied: “Don’t worry, I’ll be last!”

It took me about 1hour 15 minutes to swim the 2km and I was second last. Annie swam me with all the way. That really sums up Can Too: it is about overcoming your fears and supporting others. After the swim I got a lot of hugs
and well done’s and was told: “No one from lane six does the 2km swim.”

“Oh,” I said, “No one told me that!”

“The joy of making the distance is fantastic," says Annie. "I feel pure joy, not just from swimming, but from cheering on my people!”

Face Your Fears. Learn to Ocean Swim.

Can Too Foundation’s learn to ocean swim program runs every summer, taking novice swimmers and turning them into confident ocean swimmers. Since 2005, the Foundation has fundraised nearly $5 million just from the swim programs. The 2018 learn to ocean swim training program is the biggest on record, with more than 400 people in the water every Saturday morning, getting fit and estimating to fundraise up to $600,000 for cancer research and prevention.

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