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The 2019 Wuhan River Festival Race- What an epic adventure!

What a crazy busy, but most amazing experience this was!  Firstly, a huge thank you to Swim Canterbury, Karen Haigh Christchurch NZ and Jack Chaney CCC, for the opportunity to travel with and manage Evelyn and Liam at this event.  It was nothing like I imagined it to be!

Secondly, a huge thank you to Evelyn Ponga and Liam Moloney for being wonderful ambassadors for Christchurch and for putting up with me for the week.

Everything was paid for and organised by Nancy at the Foreign Affairs Office Of Wuhan Municipal People's Government.  All we had to arrange was our immunisations, Visas and spending money! 

Day 1

We departed Christchurch @ 9.30pm on Friday 12 July 2019.  We flew China Southern Airlines to Guangzhou and our flight over went smoothly (well it did for me because I slept a lot of the way!)  Liam managed to get some sleep, however Evelyn didn’t.  Our transfers from Guangzhou to Wuhan were easy.

We were met by our translator, Cathy, and taken to our accommodation Wuhan Asia Hotel.  At lunch we met the first of the international teams, Manchester.  Their manager (Kay) has been there for the past few years and she was a wealth of information (we had very little information and were sort of winging it).   We were all feeling rather shattered by this stage, but decided to stay awake to try and get into some routine.  Shopping at the mall down the road was the plan followed by a swim later in the afternoon.  Shopping was going well until we lost Evelyn!  A trick with shopping at the mall is to know that the mall is actually split into 3 malls and while you think you are still in the same mall on level 6, you may not be!  We finally found Evelyn at the mall next door after about 30 minutes, don’t panic we had full communication with her the whole time on the WE Chat App.  Cathy was not as relaxed as Liam and I were about losing Evelyn!! 

We then headed off to the pool, which is about a 5 minute walk down the road.  We were just about taken out by 3 cars and 10 scooters walking there, but managed to arrive safely!    After the swim it was back to the Hotel for dinner and an early night!

Day 2

We hit the ground running very early the next day as we didn’t want to waste our only free morning, so decided to go for a walk in the local area and head back to the mall to finish our shopping.  We found an amazing park down the road and due to it being a Sunday was full of the locals, doing dancing, martial arts, painting etc.  What an amazing place, didn’t cost us anything and what an experience.  We spent an hour or so there and then headed back to the air-conditioning of the mall. 

After lunch all the international teams headed off to the pool for a training session and time trials.  This took a couple of hours.  Here we got to know a lot of the international teams and meet different managers etc. The Aussie manager, Paul, had been there the previous year and gave us a lot of advice on the swim.   Most of the team members and managers have been competing there for more than 1 year, so they knew the process and the ins and outs. 

After the swim it was back to the hotel for dinner.  After dinner Evelyn and I went for a massage, we couldn’t convince Liam to join us.  It was very cheap and relaxing until they started the back massage!  For the manager going next year – I would stick to the foot and leg massage!

Another early night!

Day 3

This was the morning of the boat trip to check out the river and look at the course - very overwhelming!  The course director was giving out instructions and our translator was doing her best to give us all the information.  Cathy told us that the river wasn’t as swift as last year and the Manchester team’s translator told them it was swifter!  We still aren’t sure what was correct 😊  After checking out the course there as a team meeting with the Wuhan Council and race organiser.  This took about 90 minutes and was all in Chinese!  We sat there listening intently and Cathy took notes for us. 

After lunch all the international teams headed back to the pool for another swim.  The pool all the teams go to isn’t the same outdoor one as we went to on our first day.  It’s an indoor pool about 20 minutes away by bus and apparently it isn’t any cooler in the water than it is sitting waiting poolside (take a fan)!

After this it was back to the hotel for a rest and dinner.  After dinner I could sense that Liam and Evelyn were getting rather nervous, so we headed back to my room for a chat about the next day, a gossip and a few laughs. 

Day 4- Race Day

What a huge day this was!

We were up at 5.30am, as we were being picked up by the bus at 6.00am.  We had breakfast on the bus.   I was hoping to get a chance to go over the race plan again with them, but when we arrived at the start, they were whisked away and the managers were put on another bus to be driven back to the finish line – I only got to yell good luck as they were taken away! 

They could each take a gear bag with them to the start line, this was then transported by boat across to the finish line.

While waiting at the finish line, one of the managers told me about the livestream link that was on WeChat.  I sent this to the Fi (Liam’s mum) and Chris (Evelyn’s Dad) so they could watch the race.  To be honest they could see more than us!   Our live stream kept glitching - I needed binoculars!

Unfortunately, Liam and Evelyn didn’t finish their respective races.  It was a bit crazy at the finish line trying to find out what had happened to them.  Luckily for Evelyn it was Kay (Manchester) that found her, she was a bit upset after her race, so Kay looked after her and gave her a hug until they found me, by then she was full of smiles 😊

Liam swum with the race with the 2 Aussie boys, one who finished the race last year.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be this year.

Liam and Evelyn were gutted with their results, but until you see the river and look at the different currents, I don’t think many swimmers competing for their first time would finish.    They should be very proud of their achievements (I wouldn’t even get in the river!)  Both Liam and Evelyn, were full of “ if onlys” and ‘what if’s”!

After the race it was back to the hotel for a shower and lunch and in the afternoon we attended a function and put on at the local community centre (itinerary attached).  I’ve never had so many photo’s taken!!

Then it was off to the Yangtze River night cruise and meal.    There were about 10 different shows put on for us, Chinese Opera, Hip Hop, Martial Arts, Singing …….

We got back to the hotel at approximately 10.30pm that night – shattered!

Day 5

Our final day!  We did the touristy thing and visited the Yellow Crane Tower (along with 4 million other people) and then went to the markets.  It would have been more enjoyable if it was cooler – 40 degrees with 70% humidity does not make a pretty picture!

Our only hiccup during our time there (other than losing Evelyn!) was having flight delays and missing our connecting flight home.

Again, a huge thank you to everyone for an amazing opportunity.


Jill Perriam