Meda McKenzie (Image: Scratched)

Scratched: Meda McKenzie versus the Cook Strait

Not many people have swum across the Cook Strait – fewer still have turned around and swum all the way back again too. Scratched meets Meda McKenzie, endurance swimmer.

Watch this episode on TVNZ On Demand.

Meda McKenzie could swim. She was never a particularly fast swimmer, and never went to an Olympics or Commonwealth Games. It was her stamina and endurance that made her a legendary figure in the sport.

As a 15-year-old, McKenzie got in the chilly waters of the Cook Strait in Wellington one morning and started swimming. With her brother Alexander paddling alongside her in a surf kayak, she swam all the way to the South Island, reaching land a little over 12 hours later. This was just the start of a series of incredible long-distance swims McKenzie completed over the next few years. 

Her most remarkable swim may be the 24-hour double-crossing of the Cook Strait in 1984. Another swimmer, Philip Rush, had done the double weeks earlier, and was reported to have said the swim would be impossible for a woman to do. For no reason other than to prove him wrong, McKenzie put on her togs and Alexander got in the kayak one more time. 

There was no intensive training regime or nutrition plan. Like every time she got in the water, Meda McKenzie just swam.

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