Sophie swims The Rip

Sophie Malakellis and Jack Stewart love taking part in swimming events with their two close friends. (Ivan Kemp) 387684_02

Geelong’s Sophie Malakellis will participate in The Rip Swim on February 10 with a team of friends. She spoke with Jena Carr about what she enjoyed about water sports and the importance of getting women involved in sports.

Sophie Malakellis was submerged in sports from a young age, but while her family chose more land-based activities, she drifted towards the water.

The 27-year-old Geelong woman said she enjoyed participating in many different sports and has “dabbled” in running, swimming and surfing.

“I’m the only swimmer in my family but not the most successful athlete… I’ve done a lot of ocean swimming but on shorter courses in less challenging contexts,” she said.

“Lots of my family are quite successful in sport, and I haven’t always been like that. Swimming has been my thing when all my other family members are runners and into land-based sports.

“I grew up in Brisbane mostly, so water sports and swimming were sort of part and parcel with living in such a hot place. So, I did lots of swimming, water polo and that sort of stuff growing up.

“It was something that I’ve honed over the years, and I just found my niche and I have been building it up over the years.”

Sophie has since been involved in events, like the Pier to Pub and Portsea Classic races, which she does with her partner Jack Stewart, 28, and their two close friends Ross Bresnahan, 28, and Isla Dobie, 27.

“Training together and having the faith that you’re physically prepared helps you overcome the mental side of things (in competitions),” she said.

“Having a laugh with your friends as well, if you’re in that mindset, it’s a really happy environment, and it’s easy to have a positive outlook when you rely on each other to get across safely.

“It’s a great social thing as we catch up on the weekends, and we’ll do our swim, but then we’ll get breakfast and stuff afterwards.

“Ross did a lot of swimming in school. Jack’s always been a surfer and has been involved in surf lifesaving over the years, and Isla was similarly involved in swimming.

“So, as much as we’re participating in these competition-style events, we’re definitely not contenders, it’s more of a social thing than anything.”

The team’s next challenge will be to swim from Point Nepean to Point Lonsdale for The Rip Swim on Saturday, February 10.

“I like to keep really active, and I think there’s a lot of everyday people that do this that aren’t athletes, which I think is really cool,” Sophie said.

“This is my first time, and it’s one of the ultimate challenges for ocean swimming in Victoria. It’s a stretch of water that can be pretty treacherous at times.

“To cross it is a mental and physical challenge that lots of ocean swimmers want to take on, and not many have done that to date, so it seems like a bit of a different thing to do.

“I think it’s more of a mental challenge and proving to myself that I can do hard things. There’s certainly a physical side to it, but it’s definitely a mental game as well.

“Jumping off the boat into a stretch of water that you know is quite infamous for its challenges, but the physical side of it isn’t necessarily the main challenge. It’s more about not worrying about the sharks and what could go wrong, and just getting yourself into a headspace that sets you up for success.”

Sophie said she felt “really lucky” to do the swim with her team as they could draw “from each other for comfort”.

“It’s a bit embarrassing, but we called ourselves the Budgie Buddies Swim The Rip, and that’s because we’ve got a matching set of bathers which have little whales on them,” she said.

“We started ocean swimming around 2017, and it’s been building to something like this, not necessarily consciously building to something like this, but we just found ourselves here.

“It’s nice not to worry about just thrashing it out. I enjoy being in the water in such a crazy context and soaking it in.

“You jump in with the expectation that you’re going to swim as fast as you can to get across, but this swim is more about enjoying it, the endurance and the journey rather than a race.”

Sophie said she was glad to see more women participate in sports worldwide and that it was a great way for people to connect.

“I don’t play anymore, but I was playing local footy on a women’s side which was exciting to see, especially in Geelong,” she said.

“I recently did a cycling trip in Europe, and (an example of) the predominant demographic of people I saw doing it were two middle-aged women. They were just using sport as a way to connect with each other and travel with each other, and it was cool.

“So, I think all opportunities that women can get involved with sport, not necessarily at any sort of elite level, is great for your general well-being and to be connected with like-minded people.”