Australian swim champions were happy to David McKeon’s bushfire relief at swim clinic in Wollongong. (ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)
Olympian David McKeon was in Queensland when he received the news his family was being evacuated from their home in Lake Conjola on New Year’s Eve, as bushfires tore through the small New South Wales coastal village.
- Ian Thorpe says a better strategy is needed to manage “devastating climatic events that are happening more frequently”
- He was among Olympians who volunteered their time at a swim clinic in Wollongong to raise funds for bushfire-relief, organised by David McKeon
- Other swimmers who got involved include Jarrod Poort, Jess Hansen, Kate Campbell, Emma McKeon, Jason Cram and Monique Murphy
The family have had a home in the area for more than 20 years.
But on New Year’s Eve, like hundreds of other locals, his Olympian sister Emma, his Olympian father Ron, and his mum Suzie, herself a Commonwealth Games champion, spent a terrifying night on the beach.
“It was dreadful, it is hard to wrap your head around — 90 homes within an hour at Lake Conjola,” Mr McKeown said.
“It’s just mind-boggling.”
A photo taken by Australian Olympic swimmer Emma McKeon from Lake Conjola on New Year’s eve, where she and her family had evacuated to as fire tore through the area. (Instagram: Emma McKeon)
Susie McKeon remembers walking down to the water.
“It was in quite an orderly fashion, but it was so noisy as people used megaphones to evacuate the caravan park,” she said.
“The children were scared, and many were crying, and the sand was whipping up and difficult to see if you didn’t have sunglasses.”
Ms McKeon offered particular praise for the efforts of the water bombers.
“The helicopters were doing an amazing job, dropping their buckets in amongst the boats and jet skis that were also in the water and they continued for hours,” she said.
Luckily the family’s home was not damaged, but Ms McKeon said it has been heartbreaking to watch the devastation caused to so many.
“The impact has been unimaginable, but the community is rallying, and everyone is connecting and helping,” she said.
Swim clinic fundraiser
Eager young swimmers take to the water at the University of Wollongong, receiving coaching tips from some of Australia’s best, including Olympic champion Cate Campbell, as part of a bush-fire swim clinic. (ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)
David McKeon said he just wanted to do something to help, something practical to raise some money.
So he created a two-day swim clinic and invited some of Australia’s greatest swimmers, including Ian Thorpe, Cate Campbell and Paralympian Monique Murphy as teachers.
Young athletes were able to buy a ticket for $100 and receive training and advice on stroke techniques and breathing and nutrition fatigue management at competitions.
Some of the nation’s best swimmers have volunteered their time, offering advice to young swimmers in support of David McKeon’s bushfire relief swim clinic. (ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)
“This idea came to my head, and I have run a clinic before — this is my background this is what I know — and I started to get some athletes on board, I am pretty proud of the calibre of athlete that we were able to pull,” he said
“I didn’t even have to ask twice for all the athletes — they were all about it, which is great.”
Thorpe says a better climate strategy is needed
Olympic champion Ian Thorpe said he had no hesitation supporting the fundraising clinic when David called him.
“I enjoy spending time and showing kids how to swim, for the McKeons, a family I have known for 20 years now, it is good to be able to be able to support this initiative for them, but also the community as well,” he said.
Thorpe said like so many he had been devastated by what he had seen over the summer.
“It’s hard — Australians are used to seeing fires, but not fires like this, and I think now is the time for us to support all of the people who have been affected,” he said.
“But we really do need a better strategy about how we are going to manage these kind of devastating climatic events that are happening more frequently.”
Inspiration for the Olympics
With the Tokyo Olympics only months away, Thorpe said the bravery and courage of the fire fighters and community will be an inspiration for Australia athletes.
“I hope it does, sport offers a lot to all of us and I hope these kind of things,” he said.
Susie McKeon with her daughter Emma, Mrs McKeon is incredibly proud of her daughter and son David’s work to organise the fund raiser. (ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)
“We represent the struggle that the country goes through, we represent the joy the country goes through.
“You can find motivation in the stories that we have seen around this, the bravery that has come from the RFS and our firefighters and to locals and what they have done.”
Hundreds of swimmers young and old turned out for the event in Wollongong, David McKeon has promised the money raised for the Rural Fire Service and the Red Cross.