Victoria Athlete With Down Syndrome Wins World Open Water Swimming Nomination
When Meliah Motchman started swimming in the open sea, she felt the kind of fear that accompanies the soundtrack of Jaws. But it wasn’t sharks.
“Seaweed,” says the 30-something. “Seaweed scares me.”
It may sound silly, but Motchman’s trainer, ultramarathon swimmer Susan Simmons, agrees that algae can be insidious.
“It can be shocking when you suddenly feel it,” Simmons says. “When you walk through a kelp forest, you can easily get caught.”
Before facing that fear, Motchman had to overcome the many challenges of learning to swim without a wetsuit in water only 10 degrees above freezing.
“You feel the cold rushing through your whole body,” Simmons says. “It can be a bit painful.”
But slowly you acclimatize to the temperature. “Then you just have to swim,” smiled Simmons. “And you feel pure joy.”
This joy pushed Motchman to achieve the level of fitness necessary to withstand the ocean waves and currents during his five-kilometre swims.
“When you get to the third hour, you’re basically a raisin and you want out,” Simmons says.
“Swimming is my life,” Motchman smiles. “It makes me happy.”
So she decided to help spread some happiness during the pandemic by joining the Spirit Orcas, a team of athletes with intellectual disabilities, and swimming 80 kilometers to raise funds for COVID-19 relief.
It was during one of the fundraising stages that Motchman unexpectedly swam into a kelp forest.
There is a video of the meeting. You can hear screams and then see Simmons (who was in the water with her), swimming to comfort her.
The coach helps him to persevere in his panic. Although it’s hard to hear everything being said, it seems to help when Simmons reminds Motchman of the role of seaweed in sushi.
Another video shows Motchman swimming back to shore after hours of swimming. She overcame her fear and clapped triumphantly, “Come on team!”
Now, Motchman is one of 15 international athletes to be nominated for the World Open Water Swim Association’s Performance of the Year award, and the first person with Down’s syndrome to earn this recognition.
” She is determined. She’s tough,” Simmons says. “He’s one of the most dedicated athletes I’ve ever seen.”
And no matter the outcome, Motchman says she feels like a winner, whether she’s eating seaweed at a Japanese restaurant or inspiring others in the water.