Terry McCallum Swim Story

Royal Life Saving Trainer Terry McCallum has been a part of the team at Nepean Aquatic Centre and Eva Borys Swim school for decades. With his cheeky cockney accent (despite over 30 years living in Australia) ready smile and positive attitude, Terry is always a pleasure to be around. Myself and most of the staff at Nepean Aquatic Centre & Eva Borys Swim School have known Terry for many years, but few know of the story of how Terry came to swimming and water as a teen following many years in hospital in London as a child. In his own words, this is Terry’s uplifting swim story – settle back, enjoy the story, and allow yourself some Christmas cheer!

“When I was a very small boy (six) I was diagnosed with something nasty. I am old now, so we’re talking about the mid-fifties. Much of my childhood was spent in hospital, with multiple bouts of surgery cutting away any growths that resulted from my illness. It was terminal but slow. I was schooled in the hospital (Westminster Children’s Hospital in London) by bedside teachers. I was not allowed to leave the bed.
I’ll get to the swimming connection soon, but even though I was in hospital for years, that doesn’t mean it was all bad. Like all kids, I enjoyed life and made the most of whatever was around me. As I had been in the hospital longer than any other kid, I was always the one involved in any publicity things. Yes – I was cute like all the ones we see in those hospital ads. I remember one Easter having the job of smashing a huge chocolate egg with a hammer live on British TV. When it was played back on the news that evening I remember being shocked by the dark rims under my eyes, but the smile was right across my face.
When they built a new children’s ward at a nearby hospital, it was opened by the Queen Mother. They shipped in a bunch of sick kids (me included) from nearby hospitals to fill the ward. A bunch of nurses literally pushed me through the London streets while I was still in my bed. I was lying down when the Queen Mother leaned across and filled my vision, saying typical Queen Mother stuff. I distinctly remember her flower posy and huge, powder blue hat.
And Christmas in hospital – albeit sad and traumatic for families – is full of wonder for small kids. The nurses – all caped and capped – holding candles as they walked in line through the dark corridors singing carols on Christmas Eve. I still lump up (translation – gets a lump in his throat) at the beauty and wonderment of that scene. Then of course the avalanche of donated gifts on Christmas Day, with local personalities all visiting and playing with us.
Yes – I know – I’ll get to the swimming soon . . .
Then along came the miracle of Radiotherapy, still very much in its experimental stages. I was a natural guinea pig because I had nothing to lose. Voila! Here I am. It wasn’t as terminal as they thought. Well – it was really, but Deep Gamma saved the day. Lucky timing. I remember one day when everyone was popping bottles of champagne around my bed (different laws then of course). Doctors and nurses were laughing and crying at once. My blood count (haemoglobin) had gone up by one. As a kid I couldn’t understand why everyone was dancing and jumping. I later learned that it was because they had just proved that Radiotherapy worked! I was merely a young and bemused beneficiary of this rather significant moment in medical history. They could at last punch a hole in cancer.
It took three courses and nearly two years, but at last I could finally get out of bed. I had lost the ability to walk due to muscle wastage. Nothing that physio couldn’t fix, but it took a while. I left the hospital just in time to go to High School, but I couldn’t do sport because of – well – lots of reasons. So when all my friends went to gym and sporting excursions I stayed behind and did art and woodwork.
And now the swimming connection at last….
I was about 16 when the doctors agreed to let me have a go at a sport. That sport was . . . you guessed it . . . swimming. It was a big thing for me to finally do what my friends had been doing for so long. I will never forget the first time I jumped in and felt the full body caress of the water. Cool. Enveloping. Complete. I have been swimming ever since – joint problems permitting. In the pool, in the river and in the lake. I absolutely love it. I’m not fast but I don’t have to be. I can still do some sort of sport. That’s all I need.
The water and I have been firm friends ever since that first entry into the pool – but as much as I love it I was always aware of its dangers. A bit of a smiling assassin really. I joined the Royal Lifesaving Society in London during the early seventies and have been with them ever since, re-accrediting when I came to Australia in 1987.I now work full time as a trainer/examiner for Royal Life NSW, and I will for as long as I can. I also run Pool Lifeguard courses and teach school teachers and swim teachers and ship builders and the military. My heart soars when someone tells me they actually saved a life. Man – what a buzz!
I have had the pleasure of providing CPR courses for Alan and Karen (Bentley) for decades now. They have looked after me like they look after all of their staff. They are a very special couple.
And yes – even today – every single time I dive into the water I feel the same sensations as that 16 year old me felt. Some things never go away, and nor would I want it to. There’s just a few more creaks and groans nowadays, that’s all. The almost barbaric method of administering radiotherapy in the late fifties/early sixties left some problems that developed as I grew. I used to lie on a table under a sort of X-ray lens, then they would bathe my upper body in the glow of deep gamma. They now know (but didn’t then) that it inhibits bone growth in children, and damages certain muscle tissue ie heart muscle. It will also rip the carpet out from under the feet of your thyroid, but it will take around 30 years to do it.
All very manageable stuff – and I see myself as way ahead of the alternative”.

Huge thanks to Terry for sharing his swim story – swimming saves lives in more ways than one!