Darren Mercieca challenges high sea swells to swim the Malta – Gozo channel back and forth.

Darren Mercieca, an Audit Executive at Capstone Assurance Ltd., swapped his tie and briefcase for trunks and goggles last Saturday to complete the arduous long distance, open water swim from Gozo to Malta and back again. Darren completed the 11km swim in just over 4 hours, a creditable time in view of the difficult weather conditions with high swells and strong winds. Darren admitted that so far this has been the toughest open water swim of his career yet despite having competed and completed two identical events previously.  The tough weather conditions this time around where particularly challenging and Darren considered abandoning the race and joining the crew on the accompanying support boat. The swell and wind disrupted his swim stroke making it very difficult for him to breathe. Conditions got progressively worse and by the time he was close to Comino, swells where over 1 metre high, sapping away at his strength and mental stamina. On top of this he had to constantly battle the strong currents and the bouts of sea sickness which hit him from time to time.  Considering the bad state he was in, the thought of giving up rang constantly in his ears. He felt himself in a fight against an ‘invisible’ opponent who was slowly but surely dragging him backwards.

14172040_10209169279642098_123382261_nDiscovering the open water swimming in his early twenties, Darren confessed that swimming was not something he has been into for long. The passion for this sport arose from his motivation to improve his endurance, increase stamina at sea and challenge himself to improve his swimming technique. It all started when Darren decided to take up swimming in the national pool to relax and little did he know that relaxation was leading him to challenge himself further every time. In fact, he started to pursue structured training sessions under the supervision of Neil Agius soon after he started realising that he can reach higher targets when dedicating time to taking this sport seriously. Thanks to his training he managed to compete during organised races throughout the summer covering distances ranging from 2 to 4KM.

Darren’s training week normally consists of three 6am sessions during which he swims for around 90 minutes covering from 2.5 to 3.5KM each time. In between, he fits in some cardio exercise consisting of light, long distance running which help in weight reduction and in following up with a long distance swim of around 6km in the weekend also during the cold winter months.  Mental preparation is considered to be vital, like in every sport. Darren claims that being prepared mentally helps him surpass the tendency to give in to panic attacks brought about when swimming in open water and what he terms “the fear of the creature from the black lagoon”. His advice to keep control of one’s emotions is to maintain confidence, cut out on negative self-talk, control breathing and to familiarise yourself with the race course well ahead of the actual race.

In the future Darren’s aim is to compete in open water swimming events abroad. His dream is to cross the English Channel but admits that he needs to improve both on his stamina and technique for him to get accustomed to difficult conditions and swim for longer distances.