Ocean swimming keeps the black dog at bay for Hanby

Criminal lawyer Justin Hanby was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013 and he now swims daily as a way to take control of his mental health.

He’s a passionate advocate for the Black Dog Institute – raising money for them through his swimming – and is currently on top of his age bracket on the Swimming NSW Summer Swim Leader Board.

His result in the Cole Classic will be crucial in order for him to secure a series win.

Let’s find out more about Justin, and get some tips for your next ocean swim, from someone who does lots of them!

How did you first get into ocean swimming?

After many years out of swimming training, I returned in 2010. During the hiatus, I had momentary bouts in the pool though. Ironically, a close friend observed that during trying times I did go back to swimming training. And that’s when ocean swimming started, with a wave of enthusiasm.

Starting with shorter ocean swims have led to longer swims such as the Rottnest Island Channel (7th solo this year), the English and Catalina Channel, and this April the Molokai Channel in Hawaii. A transition from 10 mins swims to 15 hours.

What do you love about ocean swimming?

Justin Hanby is currently on top of the NSW Swim leaderboard within his age bracket for the ocean swim summer series, making the Cole Classic an important swim to secure his win.

Waking up early, grabbing a coffee, heading to the pool and training with friends, and/or that nemesis’, is what I love about swimming. Of course, the unconditional love is to my wife and young one, but to be a good husband, father and person, quelling issues relating to the mental illness of Bipolar 2 is the challenge that swimming makes so easy.

For years I knew something was wrong and swimming was the unrecognised treatment. Once diagnosed by Professor Gordon Parker of the Blackdog Institute, in 2013, my world turned for the better.

Enlightenment!! An understanding of the illness, symptoms and treatment highlighted the importance of swimming as a part of multidisciplinary tools: swimming helps level out fluctuating moods and prevents those overwhelming times.

How are you preparing for the Cole Classic?

I am presently training 5 to 6 days a week, amounting to 30 to 40kms. Each session involves a different focus, such as threshold training or slower technique work. The 5km requires a bit more distance than the other 1km and 2km categories.

How does the Cole Classic compare to other swim events?

I swam the Cole at North Bondi Beach in 1986. While I didn’t do too well back then, I remember wearing the Cole Classic T-Shirt with pride. I may have worn it to every social event that summer! It was hand washed daily.

The Cole at Manly provides a natural amphitheatre – the esplanade between Shelly and Manly Beach – which makes it more of a spectator sport.

Let’s face it, many thrashing swimmers with caps on is difficult for family and friends to see how you are going. No doubt the festival atmosphere of the day levitates swimmers performances and brings many not so interested family members along.

What are your top tips for preparing for an ocean swim?

I think you need to be training three to five times a week (five if participating in 5km swims) for at least an hour each session. An hour allows for warm-up, the conditioning phase and cool down.

If possible, simulate your ocean swim event. Have your equipment – goggles, cap and costume – fine-tuned, replicate the running start, know the currents and find a rip for an assisted swim out, sighting the buoys and drafting other swimmers if possible.

Practice body surfing to catch a wave home.

When it comes to the event itself, it’s important to avoid going too hard at the start to prevent blowing up: the arms turn into lead and other swimmers sail past with ease.

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