Desley’s lifelong blue crush
Desley Williams has lived her life in the water swimming rivers, channels and beaches all over the world.
Her love of endurance swimming has taken her from her hometown of Mackay to the Gold Coast, Victoria and overseas to England and Italy between 1967 to 1982.
She’s had hypothermia twice, once in Dover Harbor in 1971 and once off the Capri coast.
“You wouldn’t think you could get hypothermia in the summer there, but the cooler Mediterranean water was getting churned up from below,” she said.
“I was happy to be rescued because I was looked after by all these good-looking Italian doctors in white! I was very glad to be out of the water when we got closer to Naples because the water had become quite dirty.
“I was also rescued when I got hypothermia in Dover – they came out in a canoe with a blanket, and I recovered.”
Aside from the usual sports supplements, Desley found a unique way to keep warm and retain body heat in the colder waters.
“Once I used pea soup to keep warm,” she says, “but I started to get stomach cramps so I had to stop.”
When Desley swum in Australia she achieved a distance longer than the English Channel, in 1969 swimming 48km of the Murray River in 18 hours.
Prior to that in 1968, she tackled 22km of the Nerang River- an attempt which was aborted when her shark-proof cage ran aground - and 11km along the Gold Coast, without a cage.
She took a break from marathon swimming in the late 70’s, returning in spectacular fashion in 1980 when she swam 22km from Southport to South Stradbroke Island in 4 hours 40 minutes, which is to this day the longest sea swim in Queensland by a woman.
In her retirement, she’s left open water swimming behind but still trains regularly in the 25-metre pool at Bolton Clarke’s Breezes retirement village in Mackay.
“It’s the only 25-metre pool that’s open later at night,” she says, “and the biggest pool in a retirement village that I’ve seen.”
She says she loves a nighttime swim in the blue-lit water.
“There are these lovely royal blue lights – it’s so nice to train at night. It feels like you’re swimming in blue champagne! It rivals the water near the Cayman Islands in my opinion.”
Desley trains in the pool up to four evenings a week, which keeps her healthy and her doctor happy.
“I reckon now if I had to, I’d be able to do eight or ten kilometers in one sitting,” she says.
“I love it here- I love the pool and I can walk to the gym. And the manager, Brad – is really nice.”
Desley grew up at and lived in Mackay until work took her away, nursing at the Women’s Hospital, Milford Base Hospital and Manangatang Hospital. She also spent time working in a solicitor’s office and then as a court reporter.
But it was her love of the water that brought the greatest joy and adventure and remains an enduring passion.