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Master swimmer . . . Les McNeill displays the medal he won at the Australian Masters Swimming Championship in Adelaide last month. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

When Les McNeill had to register a swimming club to enter the Australian Masters Swimming Championship, his only options were Timaru or Dunedin.

So the Oamaru swimmer decided to start his own – the Waitaki Aquatic Masters.

McNeill won gold in the 1500m open water swim at the Australian Masters Swimming Championship, as the sole representative of the Waitaki Aquatic Masters.

Entered in the 75-79 age group, he also competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events.

“When I signed up, I had to put down a club to represent, so rather than join one in Timaru or Dunedin, I thought it would be a good way to get the ball rolling here,” he said.

McNeill decided to compete in the Australian Masters Swimming Championships, held in Adelaide last month, when he was travelling to Melbourne with his wife, Louise.

He had a look at what events were on at the time and decided he would have a go at the swimming championships.

“We just left a week earlier and had a great time.”

McNeill grew up in Australia, near the ocean, and had always been a swimmer, competing in surf life-saving in Australia, and was a foundation member of the Masters Surf Lifesaving Club on the Gold Coast.

But last month’s event was his first competitive foray into pool swimming.

“I’ve always been a surfer and I’ve swum in the ocean all my life,” he said.

“But I hadn’t swum competitively in the pool since I was in high school.”

He said he was more suited to long distance swimming and the open water event gave him a chance to put his ocean swimming experience to use.

Competing at the Australian Masters Swimming Championship had inspired him to get more people involved in Waitaki.

“There was a 95-year-old lady [who] swam in every freestyle event up to 800m,” he said.

“Swimming is a great low-impact sport that keeps you fit.”

There was a wide range of people who were eligible to take part in masters swimming, he said.

A part-time lifeguard at the Waitaki Aquatic Centre, McNeill is planning on holding a meeting with interested swimmers to set a day and time to gather.

“We need to get a time that suits everybody, because it’s tight getting lanes down there sometimes.”

But it was not all about swimming – McNeill would like the club to have a strong social aspect.

“Fun, fitness and friendship – that’s the theme of it.”

The Waitaki Aquatic Masters’ next event was the South Island Short Course Masters in Christchurch in August, and McNeill hoped it would have a larger representation than at the Australian Masters Swimming Championship.