SWIMMING BUDDIES: Even in winter, members of this intrepid swimming group, including Wendy McNamara (far right), take the plunge into the bay to do their laps.
SWIMMING BUDDIES: Even in winter, members of this intrepid swimming group, including Wendy McNamara (far right), take the plunge into the bay to do their laps.

Taking the plunge from beanies to Buttercups

THEY are known as The Buttercups - a group of year-round Toowoon Bay swimmers with a median age of about 60.

But many will not know that the group's name came from the brightly coloured caps that long-time lifesaver the late Allan Cook suggested they should wear about 20 years ago to be easily seen.

"Cookie", as he was affectionately known, died unexpectedly in late July, and original Buttercups member Wendy McNamara said: "He was the best possible person, kind to everyone and our guardian angel."

A passerby seeing the group in the early days sporting the bright yellow bathing caps that Wendy's daughter had bought for them commented "look at you lovely buttercups", and the name stuck.

The Buttercups are not a club as such, Wendy explained, just an ever-growing group of mates who enjoy a dip each morning ... and perhaps a cup of coffee to warm up afterwards.

"Most of us are retired and our oldest members are in their 90s, but there's also some shift workers, a doctor, nurses and ambulance officers - it's a pretty varied group really," she said.

With 35-40 regular Buttercups, Wendy said there was usually someone to swim with from about 6.30-9am daily.

 

SPIRIT AND INSPIRATION

And it's a pretty special group, Wendy said, including "the Bruces" and the inspirational Val Lincoln.

Bruce Payne, a resident at Bupa Bateau Bay, only has complete use of half his body as a result of a car accident, and Bruce Mohr picks him up three times each week and walks him down the beach and back for his ocean swim.

"It's just magic to watch," Wendy said.

"There's a lovely photo of them in the surf club and it really embodies the whole spirit of The Buttercups and the club."

Val, she said, who introduced Wendy to ocean swimming while teaching Wendy's kids to swim at the local pool, is now 95.

Despite vision and hearing problems, she has only just stopped swimming the bay after breaking her wrist.

She had set a new Australian record for the 95-99-year division in the 800m freestyle at the Australian Masters in Adelaide in March.

"She has really led by example, and is such a motivation," Wendy said.

"She has never worn a wet suit and always says 'it's only cold water'."

While some Buttercups swim 500m-2km and consider the swim to the yellow 100m buoy "a little dip" or "a bit of fun with the grandkids", for some newcomers to ocean swimming, just making the buoy is an achievement in itself.

The 100m marker - soon to be replaced after disappearing - is known as "John-Buoy" (think 1970s TV series The Waltons or Tarzan) and honours late Buttercups member John Burke, who Wendy explains looked like legendary swimmer and 1940s Tarzan film star Johnny Weissmuller.

 

WHAT KEEPS THEM GOING

Many of the Buttercups' new recruits, Wendy said, came from meeting people at the cafe after their swims.

"Everyone in the group has probably brought one to two others along," she said.

"One of our claims to fame is we even swam with (1972 Olympic champ) Shane Gould a few mornings a couple of years ago when her daughter brought her down - which was pretty special."

Overall, Wendy said, it was just "a lovely community group" for men and women who, as well as swimming and looking out for each other, also ran fundraisers for the Cancer Council.

So, what would it take to stop Wendy from swimming?

"Lightning and blue bottles," she answered quickly.

She loves the feeling of freedom, the movement of the ocean, seeing the patterns in the sand and the fish swimming with her. "A lot of people are scared of what's out there in the water," she said.

"We get lots of dolphins and stingrays. There's our resident blue groper, Barry, and there are wobbegongs, but they're bottom-dwellers and they won't bother you if you don't bother them."

And as for the cold?

"It's twice as warm in the water ... unfortunately, you do have to get out," Wendy laughed.


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