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An apposite image to lead our newsletter: Coach Neil Rogers with his squad at the Bondi Icebergs. Neil's fave time of day: Sun-up at Bondi. Rogers passed away last week. See our piece below. (Image by David Wesson.)

oceanswimsafaris.com newsletter

April 23, 2024

Look below...

Neil Rogers, 1953-2024 

Vale, a colourful eastern suburbs identity

rogers neil portrait bergs 450Ocean swimming lost one of its personalities last week with the passing of Neil Rogers, Olympian, surf champion, and latterly 'the Phil Liggett of ocean swimming' with his event calls on Sydney beaches. It's impossible to do justice to such a multi-faceted character in limited space. We wrote this appreciation at the request of oceanswims.com's Andre Slade for his own newsletter, and we figured we'd like to make it available to you, too. Losing Neil Rogers is losing part of the culcha of ocean swimming.

Neil Rogers was the archetypical Eastern Suburbs character – a big, loud, brash, charming, generous risk-taker; he filled a space; he was larger than life; he lived on his wits; a man of many ups and downs. And of many achievements. People knew he was around.

He was ‘a colourful Eastern Suburbs identity’, without the sinister underworld undertones usually attaching to that stereotype.

As the concept of the degrees of separation goes, our lives and Neil Rogers’s life ran courses mostly a couple of degrees separated, but they came together over the last quarter century through oceanswims.com. Neil was a great supporter of our website, always boosting us over the PA while calling swim events on the beach. I like to think we became good friends over time. On occasion, when we needed to know something particular, we would go to Neil, and even if he didn’t know it, he’d tell us so, or he made you feel as if he did, or he told us where to find out. He was always happy to share his knowledge and his experience. That was part of Neil’s charm.

Degrees

Early in life, Neil was one of the glamour boys of Australian sport, a good-looking kid, part of a trio of attractive, high-achieving brothers, Greg, Ron, and Neil. He was the Rogers brother who was ‘always a gentleman, always polite, always happy,’ says his friend, Steve Delorenzo.

rogers neil bergs storm spot 400During covid, squads weren't possible, but Neil Rogers continued with private lessons, even during storm conditions, at the Bergs pool. Spot Anderson took this image, and posted it again in a tribute to his friend after his passing: 'My Favorite photo of the Legend Neil Rogers - RIP buddy! You will be remembered as a lover of all things swimming helping so many people enjoy this great sport & doing things they didn’t think imaginable 👏 I remember this day like it was yesterday - yelling out to you & seeing the big smile on your face!' (Image by Spot Anderson @swanseaspot)

The youngest of the three, Neil swam at two Olympic Games and two Commonwealth Games, held many titles in surf swimming, both surf races and the belt; he represented Australia against South Africa in a surf lifesaving test series in 1971. He was a fixture on the beach for years. Kids grew up wanting to be like him.

Our first closer brush with Neil – still a degree separated – was at the NSW State Surf Championships at South Curl Curl in 1972. We covered the event for The Sydney Morning Herald (as a cadet reporter, it was our first on-location job). There was a heavy sea running, on a beach that reacts angrily to a heavy sea; the skies were brooding; it was dark; the wind howled; the rain pelted; the beach was miserable. Neil was in the Junior Belt final, favourite to win it.

And most probably would have won had the line he was towing via the belt had not become tangled in his linesman’s long hair. The linesman was Geoff James, a fellow junior at Clovelly surf club. We figured the incident was of interest and we reported this in our story but, to us, other event results ‘merited’ greater attention. Such as the Senior Boat final. Anyway, we led with the boats (we were boaties ourselves; so obviously, that was more important). Neil and Geoff James's hair were down the page.

Next day, the Sydney Sun newspaper filled its entire front page with a photo of Geoff James (Jr), taken from behind with a graphic view of Geoff’s very long hair. It was likely that, had the hair tangle happened to anyone other than a Rogers, the Sun wouldn’t have cared less. But it was a very good story, the way the Sun ran it. Our boss, the Sporting Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, said to us, in the characteristically shrill, high pitched voice that he used every time he got excited, which was 90 per cent of the time, ‘Son,' he said to us, 'you have the unique distinction of being scooped on your very first story’.

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A prescient image posted in the Art for Swimmers Facebook group by Donald Keys, just a couple of days ago. Donald said he'd finished the painting just that day. Neil probably is in there somewhere.

Ins & outs

The three Rogers lads learnt to swim in Clovelly bay with Tom Caddy, who taught a generation of people to swim, many of them also legends. The Rogers brothers eventually switched coaches to Don Talbot, who turned Neil, initially a backstroker, into a butterflyer. Neil resented this, friends say, but Talbot must have known something: Neil’s international gold was in the 100m butterfly at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974.

John Koorey, a legend himself of some of the greatest ocean challenges, and who trained with Caddy at the same time, said he 'was bitter when they switched coaches’, feeling it was disloyal, but, Koorey said, ‘they got to the Olympics; I didn’t’.

Talbot didn’t like his swimmers mixing the pool with the surf, journalist Ian Hanson wrote in 2020.

'But I tell you what, it did do,’ Rogers told Hanson. ‘It got us fit… You try going in four or five surf races on a Saturday and a Sunday and all of a sudden for someone (like me) not known for his fitness… you get fit awful quick and you were jumping through hoops… doing all those ins and outs.’

Along with their dad, Norm – from whom Neil inherited his booming voice and room-filling presence – the boys were legends around Clovelly for their swimming and surfing, and for their prominence in handball. Friends say they played handball during the week with locals such as Perce Galea, who owned racehorses and ran one of Sydney’s best-known illegal casinos. Galea and co. would attend Clovelly on Mondays, after first attending Tatts in the city for settlement of the prior weekend’s betting.

‘Perce would put on a seafood spread every Monday,’ Koorey said. ‘All sorts of people would turn up,’ he said, rattling off names that would raise eyebrows.

The Rogers boys picked up the betting bug. Eldest brother, Greg, secured a bookmaker’s licence, and the three boys fielded at the dogs and the trots around NSW. Neil worked for them on the stand.

The age-based pecking order had other fall-out: in August, 1974, Greg and Ron appeared in a nude spread in Playgirl magazine. Neil was annoyed, friends say, because he was considered too young to take part.

rogers neil fly bergs 300Not just 'fly, but 'fly with paddles: One of Neil Rogers's signature strokes. (Not sure whose image this is, but it was posted again on Neil's Facebook page by Eve Wheeler.)

King of Clovelly

After he returned from college in the US, Neil took charge of a bunch of younger Cloey swimmers. ‘He was doing ocean swimming before it was thought of as a sport,’ says Delorenzo, one of those younger Caddy swimmers. ‘He was always dreaming up new swim courses… Cloey to Coogee, Cloey to Bronte… And he’d say, “Let’s do it harder; let’s swim in Dunlop Volleys, and your dad’s old shirt”.’

Neil liked a good time. One friend said he was known as ‘the swimming beer can’. Later in life, a hedonistic streak would have served him well as Neil worked flogging wine over the phone for Cellarmasters.
Betting never left him, and some would regard it as his curse. Few habitual punters come out on top. Neil was no different. He was lucky he had sharp wits to help him get by.

Neil also had a brief career as a swim organiser, when in 2017 he revived the Coogee-Bondi swim as the 5 Beaches Swim. We questioned Neil’s call when he moved the swim to early December from its original date in April. In December, conditions weren’t right for a south-north swim over that distance, we felt. Eventually, Neil moved it back again. But he had bad luck with it: weather wasn’t kind, even given the later timing, and he always had difficulty securing approvals from authorities and support with water safety staff.

Aphorisms

From where we sit, Neil Rogers will be remembered for his positive role in ocean swimming. He was very much part of the colour of our caper through his role at events, where he seemed to know everyone, or of them and, when technology allowed it, he welcomed everyone across the line while calling their names and times over the PA. He was an elemental force in building the community that ocean swimming has become around NSW.

He will also be known for his squad at the ‘bergs, an highly successful bunch, extremely loyal to their coach. Rogers prepared many swimmers themselves of great achievement. Squad members tell us it was not uncommon in summer to have 15 swimmers in each of two lanes at the ‘bergs pool early morn. Even in winter, there could be 10 per lane.

Neil never saw himself as a pool coach, however, and he didn’t focus on improving swimmers’ times. ‘I’m not pool coach,’ he would say. ‘I’m a surf and an ocean coach.’ And, ’Don’t look at the clock. You’re not going to the Olympics. Just swim fast…’ And ‘Better going in (to a race) over-rested than over-done’.

As a coach, he would always turn up. He treasured the iconic sunrises over the ‘bergs. He had his favourite sets – which could become predictable. But it was the spirit of the squad that fired up his followers, and that came from the coach. If the surf was washing through the pool (as on a sea and at high tide), making the pool unusable, he would get the squad out into the ocean, say, for something different.

Such was the loyalty and – as another squad member, Cristina Lawrence, puts it – ‘the love’ the squad had for Neil that it facilitated great friendships among squad members.

‘Neil’s legacy is that he left behind so many enduring friendships amongst people who he brought together’, said Garry Luscombe, another squad member.

He also had a sentimental side. Neil had known Mrs Sparkle’s mum, Evelyn, when she managed Australian Swimming travelling teams. When Evelyn died during covid, aged 94, Neil sent Mrs Sparkle an email, which concluded: ‘I only have the very fondest memories of your Mum, so gentle and caring. She was ‘our’ Mum as well for the three months of training camp. Thank you for sharing her with us’.

No-one is beige. Neil was many-coloured. Vale, Neil Rogers.

Tell us how you feel...

If you'd like to leave your own tribute to Neil Rogers, we will publish it on our Feedback page. To leave your tribute... Click here

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The 1976 Australian Swim Team, about to head off to Montreal. Neil Rogers is 2nd back row, 3rd from left. Mrs Sparkle's mum, Evelyn, is the lady at lower right. '"our’ Mum as well",' as Neil put it.

Neil Rogers's funeral will be at St Mary Immaculate church, 45a Victoria Street, Waverley (just off Charing Cross) at 10:30am on Wednesday, April 24.

A tip for blokes everywhere: don't ignore problem signs from your prostate.

Thank you to Judy Playfair for her assistance in making these words presentable. 

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dividerWingless Warrior's cause

Armed Forces deployed

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Kerry Lee Gockel is a rather extraordinary person: born with no arms, Kerry Lee this weekend attempts her second 11km swim.

Say what? No arms... 11km swim!

That's what we said. It will be the third time Kerry Lee has attempted the Island Charity Swim, which starts at Mudjimba, rounds Old Woman Island, and finishes at Mooloolaba Beach. She's completed it once already, in 2023.

We've known Kerry Lee, and her husband, Paul, a Paralympic silver medalist from Atlanta in 1996 (Paul swam also in Barcelona in '92), for many years. They have been regulars on oceanswimsafaris (The Philippines, Sulawesi, Mana Island and the Yasawas in Fiji, Heron Island), and next month they're coming with us to French Polynesia for our oceanswimsafari there.

How can someone with no arms cope with something like that? How do they swim 11km?

The thing about Kerry Lee Gockel is that, while she doesn't say, 'I have a disability... I can still do anything', because she can't; what she does do is the best with what she has.

Foremost amongst what she has is her spirit. We have never met anyone, at any time in our lives, who is so comfortable in their own skin as Kerry Lee. You would think, in her position, there might be some regret, even some resentment; perhaps reluctance to try some things. But no. Kerry is a practising lawyer who drives her own car; she feeds herself, her cutlery in her toes (her only requirement is that she must sit at the end of the table so that she can lift her left foot, which holds her cutlery, even picking up mugs; Paul helps in cutting her food); she cooks (you should see Kerry Lee sitting on the bench at home peeling vegies with a paring knife held between her toes). She texts with her toes. She is a very positive person.

Her Instagram handle is 'thewinglesswarrior'. Earlier, it was 'Not Armed, Still Dangerous'.

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Wingless no longer.

Over the last couple of years, Kerry Lee has begun appearances on the motivational speakers' circuit, her theme being just that: 'Doing the best with what you've got'.

gockel kl team 600Kerry and her team (l-r) kayaker Jan Katers, guide Joep Buijs, and husband Paul.

Island Swim

The Island Charity Swim has been running since 2001. The course takes swimmers up to 2km offshore. Kerry Lee swims with fins (she has very strong legs), rolling to breathe, as swimmers do. She swims with escorts (Mrs Sparkle has been a regular escort both overseas and at Sydney swims; Kerry has a team in Brisbane who help here there – she calls them her 'Armed Forces'.)

'The swim raises money and awareness for three special schools on Queensland's Sunshine Coast,' Kerry says. 'The kids at these schools have complex disabilities, and daily life can be challenging for them and their families.'

The schools rely on fundraising to purchase specialised equipment and resources so that these kids get the most out of their days at school. In previous years, funds from the Island Charity Swim have enabled the purchase of a hydrotherapy pool, sensory playground, gym and fitness centre, wheelchair-accessible buses, adaptive playground equipment, technology and curriculum resources.

In Queensland, Kerry Lee swims with a team of supporters, her 'Armed Forces': Joep Buijs in the water with her; kayaker Jan Katers; boat skipper Val Kalmikovs (who drives his boat, 'Meow' down from Rockhampton to help out – now, that is support!); Sally Dymond, in-boat support; and husband Paul.

'This will be my third year participating in the swim and my second year swimming with Joep,' Kerry says.

'Joep and I will be swimming side by side the whole way,' Kerry says. 'I set the pace and Joep sets the course. My job is to follow Joep.'

Kerry says she's aiming for a sub-5 hour time, but, she says, 'At the end of the day, we're in Mother Nature's hands.'

You can support Kerry Lee's cause... Click here

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And sun-up... Ain't it glorious, too... Joep Buijs was on hand awaiting the start of the Palm Beach-Shelly swim on April 14 (Insta: joep_buijs_photography).

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Breathtaking Heron Island

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October 14-19, 2024 – Heron Island is one of very few resorts situated right on the Great Barrier Reef. It sits amongst the Capricornia Cays, 80kms off the Queensland coast. The water is pristine; the sea life abundant; and this is the best time of year to visit. In October, the turtles are laying on the beach; the weather is mild; and the water is pleasantly warm. Four days of reef drop-off swims – the kind of swims that you can't do if you just visit Heron Island by yourself. There's plenty of time to enjoy the place, the Great Barrier Reef, the sea life, the sun, diving, snorkeling, etc, etc...

Our dates are at mid-Spring, the start of the summer. The lagoon is alive with sea life... rays, turtles, sharks, fish of myriad colours... This is emerging as our marquee experience. To find out more... Click here   

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Solstice Special!

Buy gogs, get free delivery!!!

v820asa clbWe've had such a good response to our holiday deal, and to celebrate the start of autumn swimming — the best time of year to swim in the ocean —we're turning it into a Solstice Special. 

View Selene goggles

Until June 22, if you (inside Australia) buy three or more pairs of goggles from our Goggles Boutique, we'll refund your delivery charge. With Australia Post upping their shipping fees again recently, that'll be quite a saving — c. $15 or more.

Some of our offers…

View Selene Swipes – $40
View Wide-eyes Swipes – $40
View Wide-eyes Swipe Mirrored – $46
View Xtreme masks – $44
Prescription – Swipe Optical – choose your lens strength in each eye – $77

Click this link now and we'll get them away to you quick and smart… Click here

view optical swipe

Prescription Swipes now for kids, too

Our very popular prescription goggles now also come with high-anti-fog Swipe technology. And, they also now come in kids' sizes.

Our Swipes, so far in both Selene and Wide-Eyes versions, have been a big hit, offering what View (the makers) describe as 10 times the anti-fog capacity of other gogs. We've been using them for almost four years now, and we know that it works. We've sold around 3,000 pairs of Swipe gogs since their release just prior to Xmas 2019, so many of you must agree, too.

Now the Platina prescription goggles come in Swipe versions, too. Lenses come in strengths ranging from -1.0 to -10.0, and +1.5 to +6.0, and you can have different strengths in each eye. Just select the strengths you want when you order your gogs online.

View's new Swipe prescription gogs are available at $A77 a full pair, which is cheap compared with how you will pay at a spectacles shop.

You can order your new Swipe Platina optical (prescription) gogs online now… Click here 

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2024

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Hellercamp Pty Ltd t/a oceanswimsafaris.com
PO Box 719
Rozelle NSW 2039 Australia
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