A SCULLER ruled out of the Rio Olympics after back surgery won the suits versus skins
A SCULLER ruled out of the Rio Olympics after back surgery won the suits versus skins category of the Henley Mile swim.
Charles Cousins, 27, of Bell Street in Henley, rows for Leander Club but missed the GB Rowing trials in March so he could recover.
He had been managing the injury for nearly a year but said he was at risk of doing “irreversible damage”.
But following surgery he has been swimming regularly with a group at Gillotts Leisure Centre, becoming faster and faster.
Cousins, who was in the boat that finished fifth at London 2012 and was fourth at last year’s World Championships, was victorious in the Sunday morning swim.
He told the Henley Standard: “Being fairly new to swimming I was over the moon to win. It was a good race. It’s a nice change from rowing where I’ve come from.
“It’s been a good couple of weeks winning a bronze in the open category in the Classic as well and to build on that.”
After having surgery in February, Cousins was encouraged by physiotherapists to start swimming. He said; “When I had a back injury last year I did a two-to three-week stint in the pool. That’s where I learnt the basics.”
He was invited to train with the Swim to Live group at Gillotts and started to see his times improve.
Cousins said: “It’s a good mix of people because it’s quite a few ex-rowers. I was basically learning from scratch. You can ask any of the guys I swim with when I started at Gillotts I used to get overtaken by the slowest people and now I’m one the fastest there.
“It’s allowed me to shift that focus and energy into something else. It’s been great and keeping me sane while I’ve been doing my rehabilitation.
“I think I probably did have the advantage of being a full-time athlete before as I’ve got the fitness and strength and I know how to race. I felt almost a little bit cheeky in that I’ve probably had a bit more training than everyone else but also the fact I haven’t done a lot of swimming makes me feel a lot better about it!”
He will now tackle the Club to Pub race next month and hopes to get back to rowing next season.
Cousins said: “If people haven’t entered a swim before then definitely try and get out there and do it because it is an amazing community to be part of.
On Rio, he added: “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, there were tears, a few sleepless night contemplating everything that happened and whether I could have done things differently, but in the end I did what needed to be done.”
Henley Swim co-founder Jeremy Laming said about 700 people took part in this year’s event, the highest ever entry. “It went very well,” he said. “We were basically a third up on last year. I think we’re developing a tremendous reputation for the event as one that really caters for families.”
As well as the mile, there was a half mile swim and a 200 metre Henley Splash event for children aged eight to 12, with many swimming with their parents.
Mr Laming said: “In many cases it was the first time they had done any open water swimming and it was an incredibly big challenge for them.
“One boy was supposed to be entering the 200 metre splash but his mother had accidentally entered him into the half mile! He did end up doing 800 metres. He completed it very well and mum was in a bit of trouble afterwards!”
Great Britain swimmer Tom Allen was the overall winner, while Andrew Horsfall-Turner, the winner of last month’s Henley Classic, was second.
Meanwhile, the winner of this year’s men’s open category caught a plane to Phoenix for a work conference just hours after his victory.
Antonio Almaraz, 43, who lives off St Peter’s Hill in Caversham, said: “It feels fantastic. Believe it or not I’ve got to catch a plane to Phoenix at 2.30pm. When I told my wife she couldn’t believe it.” Mr Almaraz, who is originally from Spain and works as an executive for a software company, added: “The start is pretty choppy when everyone is trying to race. I just tried to pace myself.
“After 300 or 400 metres I was probably on my own. I just said ‘let’s go for it’. I probably regretted that after a kilometre to be honest!
“When you start open water swimming it can be fairly intimidating, but this event gives you an opportunity to race and swim in a straight line.”
Mr Almaraz, who won last year’s Club to Pub event and came third in the Mile, said he swam at a national level as a teenager in Spain. “Then life got in the way and I haven’t done any swimming for maybe 15 years,” he added.
Company director Julian Glasspole, 52, of Mill Lane, Shiplake, swan the mile with friend James Capel, from Marlow. He is tackling all four events in the Henley Swim series this year and used it as preparation for the 14km Bridge to Bridge event next month. He said: “It’s nice to do some exercise after the excesses of the regatta and festival!”
Jo Mitchinson, from Stevenage, won the women’s open category.