Windfarm worker and Natimuk footy legend Sam Anson swam 16km of the Wimmera River last week to raise awareness for mental health.
The feat was completed as part of a fundraiser for BeyondBlue, where Mr Anson aimed to swim a 3km stretch of the Wimmera River 16.6 times, 50km in total.
Mr Anson is no stranger to physically intensive challenges; in August 2020, he completed a 213km run from Horsham to Portland.
He also competes in ultra-marathon running events and ironman.
"Being an ultra marathon runner and an ironman I thought wouldn't it be cool to be an ultra swimmer," he said.
"Not having any idea how long you would have to swim to be an ultra swimmer, I just assumed that 50km is an ultra marathon, so 50km must be an ultra swim."
The idea to complete a 50km swim of the Wimmera River came due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Anson said due to Horsham's pools being closed in 2020, he tried to train in the river.
"It was so flipping cold in there. I wanted to do a training session, but obviously COVID had shut the pools down so I had no other choice but to do a swim in the river. I went to swim in there and I got in there and I was so cold. I was freezing," he said.
"I didn't end up swimming at all. I jumped in, had the goggles on and everything, did a couple of strokes, and it took my breath away, so I got out. I sat out there on the ledge next to the water, and I was thinking to myself that I was so weak.
"I had to come out and face my demons whether it is cold or whatever I have to do the hard work."Sam Anson
Mr Anson said he started preparing for the swim a month prior, on January 27. Practice included daily swims in a backyard pool tied to a rubber band and weight lifting.
"I only had 29 days of actually swimming. I didn't seek any professional advice, which I should have. I just took it upon myself," he said.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 24, Mr Anson had started to prepare for the nightly swim ahead.
"I only just stumbled across a wetsuit on Wednesday 5pm. Up until then I wasn't going to do it with a wetsuit, but I ran into a guy who does a bit of open water swimming and he offered it," he said.
"He said 'man, I am worried about you getting hypothermia there's a wetsuit here if you'd like to use it', and I said that would be awesome."
Mr Anson was to start swimming at midnight that night, so he went to bed at 6pm to get plenty of rest.
He said he was not able to get to sleep.
" I went to bed a 6.30pm that night but I didn't get to sleep until 10.20pm; my body wouldn't switch off," he said.
"I tried everything, doing sleep meditation, putting on music, but nothing was working.
"I went to sleep at 10.20pm and my alarm went off at 10.30pm. My wife put it on snooze for another 10 minutes, so at 10.40pm I got out of bed, had a shower and got some food into my guts."
Mr Anson started swimming at precisely 12am. Early on, he suffered cramps in his calves.
After the 3km mark, Mr Anson started to feel pain in his left hip flexor muscle.
"My left hip flexor started getting rather saw, so I ended up carrying on with the injury until the 8km mark. After then my left hip flexor wasn't firing so I lost a lot of power, so my arms had to take over," he said.
"Then my right shoulder started to burn out - fast, so ended up putting flippers on at around the 9km mark, and ended up carrying on with flippers on just to maintain some speed in my legs.
"I was fighting through for another three kilometres, and my right shoulder was absolutely killing me.
"I battled through to 16.6km and the shoulder was grinding, it was just too much. I hit that hurdle just a bit too early."
The swim ended at 6am on Thursday.
Mr Anson said he was trying to encourage people to overcome issues like depression, anxiety, burn-out and addiction.
"For the last couple of challenges I have done people have always said why don't you try and raise some money, because they thought it was amazing and got inspired by what I was doing," he said.
"So I got a bit more social this time and got some support and raised some awareness. That was my main objective, to raise awareness."
Mr Anson started a GoFundMe page in the lead up to the swim to raise money for BeyondBlue. He said he had received many messages of support and affirmation from the wider community.
Challenges like running from Horsham to Portland or doing a marathon swim in the Wimmera River are a 'form of therapy' for Mr Anson.
In the past, Mr Anson said he has dealt with depression and burn-out and has used physical activity as a route to self-improvement.
"I guess my word that I want to put out there to people is just know that there are other people out there that are feeling the same as you if not worse," he said.
"There are people out there that have turned their life around from the position they are in; it is just literally taking a bunch of baby steps.
"That is what it is about, being willing to put one foot in front of another and wanting to seek help, wanting things to be different."Sam Anson
Mr Anson said he is looking to try the swim again in the future.
Since his first attempt, Mr Anson said he had been approached by a retired swimming coach inspired by his story and was looking to train Mr Anson's volume swimming and cold tolerance.
"My next challenge is to do this swim again. Once I set a goal, I don't ever quit, I make sure I complete it," he said.
"The river only won the battle this time, it is not going to win the war."