Serious Sisu: Kirsten Cameron

For the majority of us, a 1km swim is a long swim - try adding a zero to that and doing it at least twice per week!?!  This week we caught up with champion long distance swimmer Kirsten Cameron, who has some serious swimming sisu!  

Kirsten started swimming when she was 30 years of age, with the goal of breaking a record at the World Masters Games.  She achieved that, and has gone on to break records in 400m, 800m and 1500m, across three age categories, across the globe.  She has won the Denerau and Beachcomber swim in Fiji in record time and was the NZ short course 800m champion and the inaugural NZ 10km swimming champion - absolutely amazing feats when you are competing against swimmers half your age.   

Kirsten is another reminder that it is never too late to set goals, pursue passions and achieve your highest potential!  

Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

I am Kirsten Cameron from New Zealand, I am 41 years old and I am a distance freestyle swimmer.  I am currently living in Yorkshire in the UK with my English husband Mark and my dog Alfie.  I am a project manager and am lucky enough to work from home most of the time which allows me flexibility with my work hours to fit in training.

What is a typical "week in the life" of Kirsten Cameron?

I train six days a week with Monday, Wednesday and Friday being a 2-2.5 hour swim in the morning and a gym session in the evening.  Tuesdays and Thursday's are my big swims where I do a 10+km swim at midday.  On Saturday's I train with a local masters club who have a great coach.  He makes me do the sorts of sessions I hate doing like speed work and 50m sprints. Since moving to the UK last year I have had to alter my training slightly and cut back on some sessions due to difficulty with pool space.  But that might not be a bad thing at my age...


You came to swimming quite late in life. Why was that? Were you always sporty growing up?

Yes, I was always sporty, although my hand/eye coordination is somewhat lacking so some sports were more about trying than succeeding…. But, there are a couple of reasons I never swam when I was younger.  I grew up in a remote farming community so the concept of swimming training was alien.  In addition to this even while I competed in school competitions etc and did well there was no talent identification in NZ so I was never noticed.  Finally, I went to boarding school so even if I had wanted to get into swim training it would not have been acceptable.  Going to a conservative school and being good at a sport outside of horse riding was not deemed "appropriate"!  There was no encouragement or support from school staff or fellow pupils.  I went along to a swimming club once a week in summer to swim a couple of races, and that alone created enough problems at school.

I don’t regret not taking it up when I was younger as it simply didn’t happen, so I can't regret it.  If I had swum, I probably wouldn’t have done the whole range of other things I did such as travelled the world etc.

The thing that most people have no idea about is the level of commitment and hard work required to make it to the top and the importance of having a good support network to get you there – parents, club, friends.  Top talent can so easily be knocked off by a lack in this area. You can't make the World Champs by swimming once a week.

How do you keep yourself focused on such long swims? 

I play mind games, and number games.  Again it’s the mindset, it’s the challenge, its what I find exciting – having the tenacity to get through it without losing it.  Doing a long set in practice – say 4x1500m, which I did a couple of days ago, I find I start playing with numbers and it’s a challenge to get through it.  I am the sort of person who is a big picture person, I need to see the long view of something and I guess it’s the same approach to my training. My mind just gets in this zone and I focus on the end goal. 

What are your longer term goals?

I have a photo frame beside my bed that reads:

“Why I Swim: Swimming is always where I used to go to think.  Swimming is what I do naturally – peace in the water.  I love pushing my body, working hard and feeling it respond.  Nothing more satisfying than completing a really hard raining session.  Going into a race, racing it well, effortlessly and winning it convincingly – The Perfect Race.”

Ultimately I want to swim the perfect race and to know I have  reached my potential – that I have done the best I ever could.

What milestones/achievements have you accomplished to date?

I started properly swimming at the age of 30.  I originally wanted to go to the World Masters Games and win the 800m.  Then that became a world record in the 800m and 1500m, and then by the end of my first year of training I had qualified for the NZ Open Champs and made the final of the 800m freestyle and the focus shifted from Masters to the Elite level.  Then I tried an open water race and loved it.  I loved the distance.  It went from there, breaking a number of World Masters Records, winning a few NZ Open Titles and ultimately representing NZ on the World Cup circuit for 10km swimming.  I also did a 20km swim in Fiji which I LOVED. 

Since moving to the UK I had the privilege of taking part in a relay of the English Channel with a very talented group of people including Christoff Wandratsch who had previously held the solo record.  It really ignited my love of Open Water swimming and again I am looking at longer swims.  

What piece of advice would you give to your 13 year old self?

Don’t be afraid to push yourself – to work hard.  Believe in yourself and don’t let others stand in your way or drag you down or hold you back or doubt you or make you doubt yourself.  

What makes you wake up each morning?

The desire to succeed gets me out of bed. To push my body and feel it respond.  And most of all the desire to feel I have given it all and reached my full potential.

What and who inspires you? 

Anyone who succeeds against adversity, succeeds in something real., and has the grace to give back. IE: Sir Edmund Hilary, Nelson Mandela.

What is the piece of advice you ever received?

“If all else fails, go back and do what the coach told you to do in the first place.” 

What are you training for at the moment?

I have had a bit of a rough year outside of swimming so right now I am spending a few months away from racing and getting my mind and body back in a good space.  I am really enjoying the training without the pressure.  There are more Masters records to chase, an open water course record or two and that ultimate goal of completing the Perfect Race

Who do you think has serious sisu?

Kathryn Marie Haesner, Lauren Boyle, Cara Baker and Danica Bonello Spiteri

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