Glamourhead Sharks: Swim SchoolNicky Breen dives in the deep end with the Glamourhead Sharks

Schoolteacher, Natalie Gray, felt a little fraudulent when she attended the Glamourhead Sharks “Welcome to youth” night. Taking a close friend along too, literally, hold her hand, Gray said she felt she was “tipping the bucket, at age 30.”

But she needn’t have. The Melbourne swim club’s youngest member maybe just 24, but their eldest swimmer is 72 years old.

New to the scene, Gray joined the Sharks to stay fit and meet other people, when she tired of the pubs and clubs. After some initial jitters, her nerves quickly vanished when she finally went to that first meet.

“I asked which was the slow lane and dived into a training session that was gruelling fun and most importantly personalised. Everyone asked and remembered my name, I immediately felt at home.”

The club was founded after several swimmers wanted to compete in the 2002 Sydney gay games. The group selected a name that screamed both camp and competitive and the Glamourhead Sharks were born.

Nine years on, the club is sending an eighteen strong contingent of gay men and women to the 2010 event in Cologne. Club captain Dane McManus says as well as soaking up the atmosphere, he hopes the swimmers will achieve new personal bests and possibly pick up a medal or two.

And if you’re a Shark a new personal best could mean an entry into the record books. The men’s relay team recently broke two master’s world records for the 400m freestyle and medley relays.

Training twice a week at the Wesley pool, it’s fair to say the club take their swimming pretty seriously but you don’t need to be Stephanie Rice to join.

“As long as you can swim 300 metres freestyle and are confident in another stroke, you’re in,” says Gray.

Coaches will give swimmers pointers so they feel they have something to work on each week, and each pool lane targets a specific fitness level and ability. But Gray concedes swimmers do feel “pretty exhausted” after training.  It’s a “good exhausted”, she says, “not the type that turns you off sport…it makes you want more.”

And for Gray, the hard work paid off, when she was rewarded with the thrill of competing again for the first time since high school.

“I was so excited I did a little dance at the end of the race,” she says.

And the Sharks activities aren’t limited to the water. The club organises monthly dinners and fundraisers, as well as swim meets. Gray clearly likes to sing when she’s swimming, she has fond memories of taking out the karaoke contest with fellow team member Jack Dow at the group’s “golden goggles” awards night.

But for the schoolteacher, it’s the mix of people she meets at the club which excites her the most. LGBQTI community groups can end up divided by gender. But the Sharks pride themselves on blurring those lines.

“The closest friend I’ve made on the team is a young gay guy.”  She says, adding that “women have always been a strong part of the club.”

With over seventy members, the organisation continues to go from strength to strength, with specialist coaching clinics set up for the coming year the sharks are heading towards their 10th birthday. Club captain McManus says they’ll be celebrating in style. The Sharks are aiming to send 40 swimmers to the 2011 south pacific out games in New Zealand while hoping to recruit some younger swimmers to the club.

And for those curious about the group, but who feel a little intimidated, Gray has these words of advice.

“Take the plunge, Join! It took me a while to do it, but I haven’t looked back since.”

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