Swimmer with brain injury forced to train in St George’s Lake

Disruption: Mark Thompson has been forced to train in St George’s Lake. Picture: Jeremy Bannister
Disruption: Mark Thompson has been forced to train in St George’s Lake. Picture: Jeremy Bannister

UNABLE to swim at Ballarat’s Eureka Pool, ocean swimmer and Ballarat identity Mark Thompson has been forced to train in Creswick’s St George’s Lake. Mr Thompson, who suffered a brain injury after being trapped underwater in an overturned yacht in 1995, is a regular competitor in ocean races and events including Lorne’s Pier to Pub. He looks forward to the opening of Ballarat’s outdoor pools at the start of November to train in cold-water conditions but following the decision by the City of Ballarat to award the contract for the Eureka pool to the YMCA, Mr Thompson has been left high and dry. “I rang the council and they were telling me it wouldn’t be open until well after the start of November so I knew I had to find somewhere else to swim. “To swim in ocean races, you have to get used the cold water temperature as part of your training so the lake was one of my only options,” he said. Mr Thompson said the McKenzie family, longtime operators of the Eureka Pool, had looked after him each year as he prepared for as many as 10 open-water races. “Swimming in the lake at Creswick is very different and it was surprisingly warm to pools I have swum in,” he said. Mr Thompson’s carer and therapist Mary Bunting said she helped him into the water using an all-terrain wheelchair. “Watching Mark train so hard and be passionate about his swimming is humbling,” she said. “His attitude is if there’s no cold-water pool available you find a way to train – but the drive to Creswick and changed conditions do provide a disruption.” In 1995, Mr Thompson had to be rescued from Bass Strait after the yacht he and six others were sailing on capsized. After his recovery, it took him two years to overcome his fear of water and begin swimming assisted by YMCA lifeguard and friend Savorio Bonazzoli. Since then he has completed more than 35 ocean swims, including 8 Pier to Pub events.