Gerald Kirkham overcomes adversity to swim in Whyalla

LEGEND: Gerald Kirkham, surrounded by friends and family, was presented with a special plaque from the Whyalla Swimming Club to commemorate his 60th Open Water Swim.
LEGEND: Gerald Kirkham, surrounded by friends and family, was presented with a special plaque from the Whyalla Swimming Club to commemorate his 60th Open Water Swim.

“Well, that’s it,” Gerald Kirkham said nonchalantly as he was met by a roar of laughter and applause crossing the finish line of the Whyalla Open Water swim for the 60th time.

The 86-year-old marathon man has a slew of extraordinary milestones to his name, but this one was special.

It was his first race back since beginning his battle with cancer some six months ago.

With the support of his friends in the water and his family on land, Gerald completed the 1600 metre swim with grace.

“Usually I start training in September but I’ve only been training for about 6-8 weeks. That’s all I’ve had, so I’ve done well really,” he said as he ate a well earned breakfast sandwich. 

While “done well” may be considered an understatement, his achievements aren’t lost on those around him.

Friends Maryanne Shaw and John Hughes find themselves in awe of Gerald’s can-do attitude.

“His achievements will never be matched,” Maryanne said. “He’s showing people that no matter what your age is, you can still do it and that’s what it’s all about.”

“For the young kids he’s a big inspiration,” John added. “He’s definitely a character.”

Gerald admits that he’s had some hard times over the past few months – chemotherapy has taken a tole on him psychically and emotionally.

“I’m not Gerald Kirkham, put it that way,” he said solemnly. “Your whole character changes.

“When I went back to see the nurse I said ‘six months ago I swam in the Port Pirie open water swim two kilometres for the 60th time and look at me now, I couldn’t swim the length of a piss pot’,” he laughed – his sense of humour still intact.

But with well over 200 races under his belt, he’s never pulled out of one early and he doesn’t ever plan to.

“I had a lot of trouble – when I first came back from being sick – with the little bloke up here,” Gerald said, pointing to his temple.

“I would only swim half a lap and think I can't do this.

“But I overpowered that and I’ve come good.”

Gerald still faces chemotherapy treatment in the coming months, but said completing the race has been a big moral booster.

He’s approaching his treatment in the same way that he approaches swimming.

“It’s just a matter of keep going,” he said.