The sun goes down; the stars come out.

By Mark Helliwell-Holmes 

Day One -Saturday 

Like all good sportspeople, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. This was the case of the inaugural and very successful Proud to Play (P2P) sporting festival held in Auckland New Zealand in February 2016. Rising from the ashes of what was originally meant to be an Asia Pacific Outgames, local organisers worked exceptionally hard to ensure LGBTIQ athletes from across the Asia Pacific had a platform to unite and prove that gay people can and do play sport. 

What better place to do it? Aotearoa, New Zealand, home of the long white loud and also home to marriage equality and some of the most progressive laws protecting LGBTIQ people in the Asia Pacific. 

Our home for the games was to be Tāmaki Makaurau known by Pākehā as Auckland. This harbour city is surrounded by coves, inlets, beaches and water. This natural beauty has attracted canoes and seafarers from ancient times. In fact Tāmaki is known as 'the gatherer of canoes. Today, the tradition continues and these waters are sprinkled with hundreds of boats and Auckland is often referred to the 'City of Sails’. 

One of these waterways, the beautiful mission bay was home to the first taste of NZ waters for the aqua hungry Wett Ones. Early Saturday saw many Wett Ones take part in the Bean Rock ocean swim in glorious Kiwi sunshine. This established event on the NZ swimming calendar also doubled as an open water swim for LGBTIQ P2P participants. Gold silver and bronze would be awarded to the first three male and female P2P competitors across the line in both the 1.6km and 3.2km swims. Wett Ones' Megan claimed silver in the 1.6k, Masaki won silver in the 3.2km men's and Nick Westaway won bronze in the 1.6km swim. 

The swimmers for the 1.6km swim get ready to start!

The swimmers for the 1.6km swim get ready to start!

To formally mark the opening of the P2P festivities all participants were invited to a pōwhiri held by the local Tāmaki people at the waterfront precinct known as Silo Park. A pōwhiri is a Māori welcoming ceremony involving speeches, dancing, singing and finally the hongi or nose pressing. After a briefing by locals three Māori Warriors were sent to greet the visitors. This was to test the friendliness of the invaders. After successfully showing we came in peace we were welcomed with Māori speeches singing, dancing and tradition. The cheeky elder solemnly gave us the weather report in Māori as we all cluelessly watched on. The highlight of the performance was the Māori Men and women giving us a rendition of Doe rei mi in local language. We were welcomed by the flamboyant Mayor of the City Len Brown. We were also lucky to be in the presence of LGBTIQ sporting greatness with US world champion soccer player Lori Lindsey an official guest of the city. The highlight of the day was meeting Louisa Wall the out Māori lesbian woman who introduced and was crucial in passing the marriage equality bill into NZ in April 2013.

A quick celebratory bevvie at a closeby bar and with registration complete we had a quick costume change and were off for a Wett Ones team dinner at a local Italian. Which coincidentally appeared to be THE place for Auckland Hens nights! A topless waiter kept many of the boys distracted whilst Wett Ones banded together to help poor Rachel on her hens night treasure hunt. The group then moved onto The Eagle, a local gay speakeasy (not the seedy men's club it sounds like). This was followed by busting some moves on the dance floor  at The Family night club across the road. With this stretching and dry land training complete, swimmers retired for the morning (!) and a lazy Sunday...

Day Two - Sunday 

Sunday saw most of the Wetties off to the Love Your Condom Big Gay Out (LYC being the city's safe sex initiative). Essentially, Auckland's version of Fair day. Once again we were blessed with great weather and atmosphere. This chilled out picnic in the park was a great way for us to really get the vibe of the Auckland gay scene. Mr Gay NZ was crowned in front of an adoring audience, and the NZ PM was subjected to a passionate protest. As the sun set, all eyes and thoughts turned to the inevitable start of competition with many going through their own race night preparations. 

Day Three – Monday

Team Wett Ones at the pool

Team Wett Ones at the pool

An early start saw the Wett Ones head to the West Wave aquatic centre in West Auckland. This is a purpose built facility that housed the aquatics at the 1990 Commonwealth games. This hallowed water saw Hayley Lewis thrust into the world swimming stage winning five gold medals at 15 years of age.  This pool could also be considered the birthplace of future champions. A little known swimmer snuck onto the Australian team and gained a silver medal in the 1500 free behind rising star Glen Housman. His name was Kieran Perkins.  It was also the first time both men swam sub 15 minutes for the event. Not to be outdone, a shy girl, surprised everyone by claiming silver in the 100 fly behind 80's powerhouse Lisa Curry Kenny. Her name was Susie O'niel. Both Kieran and Susie made their international debut and went on to be multiple Olympic and World Champions. But how would the Wett Ones fare in such an illustrious cauldron?

After the warm up many swimmers commented how the water felt very thick and syrupy. Full of NZ minerals perhaps? A quick speech or two from West Auckland MPs, a parade of the officials led by Wett Ones David Helliwell-Holmes and it was time for things to heat up. It soon became apparent that this was going to be a very tough and gruelling meet. With a full program it was going to be a quick and fast competition with not much rest between events.

Highlights of the day: 

  • Nori battling it out, right down to the wire, in the 100 breast.
  • Megan setting a new meet record in the 100 breast 
  • Wendy swimming sub 60 seconds for 50 free
  • Adrian swimming sub 30 seconds to win the 50 free
  • Gary gaining 3rd in his 50 free
  • Mi winning the 200 back showing great technique 
  • Pascal's epic dogfight in the 200m backstroke holding off stiff competition 
  • 4x50 mixed medley relay- our lesbian women and  gay men colloborated beautifully in the mixed team with Nick Ward anchoring strongly.
  • 4x50 mens medley relay - with Nick Westaway and Chris Healy storming home in the final two legs to take a narrow win from Glams.  
  • Masaki breaking the meet record in an impressive 200 IM 
  • Colin breaking the 1:20 for 100 free
  • Mark and Nori dueling to the end in the 50 breaststroke with Mark finally taking a win and posting the fastest 50 breast swim of the day 
  • 4x100 free relays - Tristan backing up from a PB in his individual freestyle to set up the team of himself, Andrew, Mark, and Pascal, each swimming on top form to bring home a new Asia Pacific record. Secondly, the newly formed team of Peter, Colin, David and Adrian each swam hard to bring home the last swim of the day to huge cheers from the crowd!

A quick lunch and some Wett Ones went off to support Team Sydney in the bowling competition. This involved much cheering, Pom Pom waving and chanting. Other Wett Ones took advantage of the aquatic centre’s close proximity to the west coast beaches and headed for the black sands of Piha beach. A short hike saw many Wett Ones chasing waterfalls and having a refreshing dip in Kitekite falls or a participating in a self administered black sand facial. 

Later that evening, all swimmers were invited to a bear flash mob at a local taphouse. This coincided with the opening of NZ bear week. We were a little disappointed to find that a flash mob in NZ unfortunately didn't mean singing and dancing bears but rather a fagtag event. Once a student heavy metal band started playing the gays and lesbians scattered to a local international food court in Ponsonby for a cheap and cheerful meal before retiring. 

Day four - Tuesday 

It was very tough backing up today after yesterday's very full and busy schedule. It was going to be a test of mental stamina and depth of training.  

Highlights:

  • Nick Ward showing real depth and winning the 800 free with an impressive time. David showing his talent not only for running (claiming bronze in the 5K) but longer distances in the pool and completing a great 800.
  • Not to be outdone Margaret showed great form to win the 50 fly 
  • Bart clocking an impressive 3:30 for his 200 breast and with swimmer/referee Neil also showing us how to bring home a solid breaststroke swim.
  • Mi completing the gold rush by taking the 100/200 backstroke double. 
  • An injured Chris Healy posting an impressive 31 seconds for 50 back 
  • Peter showing his passion as an established flyer and swimming an impressive time and beautifully planned 100 fly 
  • The 400 free saw Masaki, Tristan and Mark all topping Olympian Blake Sjkerllerup in their age group. But watch out boys he intends to move to Sydney and join Wett Ones. 
  • But the stand out performance goes to Andrew with a beautifully crafted 400 free at the end of a tough campaign  
  • Wett Ones put together an unorthodox team of seven swimmers for the 7x50 free TAMS cup with Gwenael swimming a ripper 50 free only taking a few breathes the entire length, resulting in a great unexpected win.   
  • Two Wett Ones lesbian women and two of our boys teamed up with the Glamourheads to form an all-star Australian team and win the inaugural trans Tasman cup relay beating the Kiwis by a considerable amount - establishing a tough-to-beat  record in this new event.
The Trans-Tasman cup winning team!

The Trans-Tasman cup winning team!

Local club TAMS hosted a swimmers after party at the Auckland waterfront with all teams attending. This was followed by an inter club dinner and culminating with the hard core revellers ending up at the Eagle where the fun and friendship continued long into the night. 

The overwhelming feeling of this meet was one of enjoyment and relaxing through our shared commitment to the sport of swimming. It was a tough meet and really tested the preparation of our swimmers. Thanks to you ALL for making the inaugural Proud to Play memorable and very successful for Wett Ones. 

Thanks to our amazing coaches Danny Crowe, Vassili Efimov , Peter McGee and Catherine Rogers for working tirelessly through the Silly Season and New Year to attempt to whip us into shape. We really appreciate it. Special thanks to Danny and Peter for travelling with us and being there. A big shout out to our team captains Masaki Shibata and Wendy Magnus and President Tristan Bray for all the organisation and preparation beforehand and all the herding on Kiwi soil. A huge thanks to Megan McLachlan for being relay organiser extraordinaire.

P2P has established a stronger swimming bond between Australia and NZ, opening channels, forging alliances and new-found friendships. This meet highlighted the differences and similarities which make up the rainbow swimming family we call Wett Ones. But overall, United as one in our love of swimming, we are most certainly, above all else extremely Proud to Play.

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