Swimming for Jess

Jess’ Squad was named in honour of swimmer Jessica Barnes, who died last year

For the second year in a row, Avoca resident and paramedic Josh Barnes will jump into the pool in support of ReachOut’s annual Laps for Life initiative in March.

The month-long swimming challenge raises funds to increase awareness around young people in Australia living with mental health difficulties and to help prevent youth suicide.

For Barnes, involvement is personal, with his team of swimmers named Jess’s Squad in honour of his late sister.

“My sister was a champion swimmer who won state titles in both surf and pool,” he said.

“Later in life she experienced mental health battles and she passed away last year through other circumstances.

“Last year I assembled a small crew of eight or so and we would meet at Gosford or Woy Woy pool to do laps in preparation.

“But this year we wanted to spread the word about youth mental health and get it out on everyone’s social media.

“Currently there around 15 of us but I hope we will end up without about 40.”

As a paramedic, Barnes has assembled a team which includes other paramedics, doctors and health professionals.

“Even my mum, who is a medical receptionist, is on board,” he said.

“But we also have lifeguards and carpenters in the squad – everyone from strong swimmers to those who don’t swim much.”

While he used to swim a lot, Barnes said he hadn’t trained for a while and would gradually extend his training sessions in coming weeks.

Each member will log laps swum in March on the lapsforlife website, to be added to the squad’s tally.

Barnes has upped his own personal distance goal.

“Last year I did 20km; this year I’m trying for 30,” he said.

People can sponsor the squad on the website.

With young people’s mental health heavily impacted by COVID-19, Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe has thrown his support behind the initiative, saying now was a vital time to get involved.

“The mental health of young people across Australia has been profoundly impacted by issues such as COVID-19 lockdowns, high unemployment levels, financial stress and uncertainty about the future, and as we move into 2021, ReachOut continues to support more young people across Australia than ever before,” he said.

“Despite the country wide lockdowns, the Laps for Life community swam more than 35,000 kilometres in 2020; an incredible achievement.

“This year, I’m challenging everyone to help us smash that record.”

Director of Marketing and Fundraising at ReachOut, Tracey Campbell, said taking part in Laps for Life also had wellbeing benefits for participants.

“Swimming – and exercise in general – is a great way to improve our mental health and wellbeing.

“At the same time, swimmers help raise funds for the work ReachOut does to help so many young Aussies through whatever life throws at them.”

People can get involved by visiting lapsforlife.com.au to register a personal swimming challenge and fundraise for youth mental health.

Participants set their own lap or distance goal and then dive on in.

To register to take part in Laps for Life, visit: lapsforlife.com.au

Terry Collins