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Quinn Darragh & Luke Stewart… Pushing their Limits

By James Hutton on March 20, 2020 in People

Photography by: Yianni Aspradakis Instagram @yianni_photography

We’ve been lucky to meet some incredible humans since launching The Beast over fifteen years ago, wonderful people from all walks of life. Among these are members of our local community doing amazing things to help others, and Bronte’s Quinn Darragh and Luke Stewart are two exceptional cases…
How are you both this morning?
Luke Very well thanks. A bit tired, a bit sore from all the training, but otherwise good, in good spirits. It’s Friday, it’s been a big week. Quinn You just had a swim then? Luke Yeah, I just had a swim at Cloey. A meeting got cancelled, so I thought, “Right, here’s an opportunity, I can bag half an hour, straight into Cloey.” I did a kilometre and a half, maybe two. There was a bit of water moving, lots of debris, good fun. Quinn Blueys? Luke No blueys. Blueys are attracted to me though, I’ve had plenty of experience over the last six months with blueys.
You’re both born and bred right here?
Quinn Yeah, Bayview Street, Bronte, ever since I can remember. Dad owned the Charing Cross Hotel initially, that’s where I was born.
Your old man owned the Charo?
Quinn Yeah, that’s right. That was back in the day, when the judges used to drink with the criminals and they’d go to the Downing Centre and all drink at the same pub and then go back to work together. Dad only told me this just before he died, when he was quite crook. We always said, “Why didn’t you keep the Charo? We would have loved to have grown up and still had that pub.” He said there was a massive fight that broke out one night and it was mayhem, the police were involved and everything. They were all well known, some of the characters that he mentioned. I’d seen them in some of the Underbelly episodes. The reason he sold was because one of the criminals came back and said, “I know your three boys sleep upstairs, so be careful what you say.” That was enough. He said, “Time to move.” Then we moved. Mum and Dad had the Hewlett Street shop after that, it was a post office as well back then.
The one near the bus stop?
Quinn Yeah, next to the park. They eventually moved down to Bayview Street. That’s all I can remember, from about two or three years of age.
How old were you when your dad sold the Charo?
Quinn I think I was three.
Do you remember it?
Quinn My eldest brother remembers everything about it but I don’t remember much. I know where the bedrooms were. If you look from the street they’re on the corner up top, but I was too young to remember.
Where Gherkin used to live?
Yes, exactly where Gherkin used to live. That was my bedroom. I had a bassinet where Gherkin used to live. Where he used to sleep, that’s where I slept.
What about you Luke?
Luke I went to Cloey Public, and then went to Sydney Boys for a couple of years. Then we moved to the country, to Deniliquin, for four years of high school and part of the year afterwards for Dad’s work. He was putting together land and water management plans for the Murray-Darling Basin. That’s where I had the formative years of my life. I went to the little state school there, mum taught there. My brother Gav came with us and my sister Lyndall stayed in Sydney to finish high school at St Catherine’s.
You’ve definitely got a bit of country twang in the accent…
Luke It was unreal, honestly. It was really good for me.
Was Deni a rough joint?
Luke No, not really. If you didn’t play sport you’d be in trouble, because there wasn’t too much else to do. When I went there I was sort of a surfy kid. People wanted to fight me at the beginning, because I was the new kid in town, so I learned to box there early on. My footy coach taught me how to box, and an old fellow that used to fight in the Sharman tents, he used to go around to the different towns.
They’re the toughest blokes in the world…
Luke His knuckles used to sit back near his wrist. That was a lifetime ago.
How long have you two known each other? Did you know each other before you went to Deni?
Luke No, but we had mutual friends when we were probably 18 or 19. When I came back from the country I fell in with the boys as my core group of mates.
It’s a good crew…
Quinn And married one of our mate’s sisters. Luke Yes, I did that too.
Whose sister?
Luke Benny Quigley’s sister.
Oh, you’re married to Quigley’s sister?
Luke Yeah.
How many sisters has he got?
Luke Two. Quinn And Nick Bardetta’s married to Ash. Luke That’s right.
The Quigley family have been good to you blokes…
Luke Yeah, they have. Quinn Very good!
What are your fondest memories of your childhoods?
Quinn Probably on our mornings off from swimming, being so close to the beach that you could hear the waves and you could tell how big it was from the sets breaking, how far apart they were and how loud it was, through the bedroom window. Luke I loved playing cricket in the street with the big wheelie bins as the wicket, and just the community and knowing kids from all different sports. Just that sense of community, hanging out with all different people from different places.
Do you think the changes around this area have been for the better?
Quinn I don’t think it’s better or worse. I just think it’s the evolution of a spot on the coast that is so beautiful. These days there’s a lot more wealth in the area, but the landscape that drew my dad to Bronte is still the same. He just made it his mission to get to that spot. My grandmother lived on the other half of this semi, 21 Bayview Street, then when the other side came up for sale Dad was just onto it. It had to be completely rebuilt, which he did with the help of another builder. It’s a special place. You’ve got the beach, Bronte Baths, and the train, which is iconic. It goes straight from the beach to a park, and then into a rainforest with the gully. It’s an unbelievable place. My grandmother bought her place for $22,000, and that was the most blue ribbon street.
What year was that?
Quinn It was way back in 1969 when she bought her place. The Eastern Suburbs was very blue collar back then. Things were a lot cheaper, but wages were a lot lower as well. It’s still not as expensive in comparison to now, but I think the same thing that drew those people, like my parents, to the area at the time, it’s just made everything more popular. The only way you’ve got a fighting chance now is if you do have a lot of money, which is a bit unfortunate.
Or if your parents are rich…
Luke I think our group of mates, we all lived at home until we were much older than what probably happened in the generation before, because that’s what we needed to do to save for a mortgage. It’s an evolution. Things change over time. That’s just the nature of things. But this is God’s country. Some of our best friends have moved away, in part for financial reasons, no doubt about it. Once you’ve got a family, you want a bit more space and all that sort of stuff. That’s not fantastic. Quinn Yeah, I suppose it’s trying to hold on to that sense of community, that small town feel that Bronte did have back in the day. There’s lots of people defending Bronte against high-rise and becoming like Bondi. It’s just unfortunate that there’s so much history down there, for me personally, that these people that I grew up with and were formative in my life growing up, some have moved away to try to find the Bronte of forty years ago.
What can we do to improve the Eastern Suburbs? If you were running a communist regime, what would you do?
Quinn Put statues of Luke everywhere. Luke The thing that I love most is the natural environment. So, being able to access that easily is important. What I would change is how much you’ve got to pay for parking around the place. It’s crazy, to take my son for a surf at Bondi you’re looking at around $16 in parking for a two-hour surf.
And the rest… Luke To me, that’s pretty crazy how that’s been introduced across the beaches. I love my coffee, and I love that there’s awesome coffee shops around the place. It’s so competitive. If you don’t make a good coffee, you won’t last very long. Quinn Campbell Parade needs a massive overhaul.
A bulldozer overhaul… Quinn That’s right, they need to start that again. No amount of lipstick can make that pig look pretty. Luke That’s a good point. I reckon Clovelly and Bronte are still two community hubs. And then you’ve got Bondi, which is quite transient. You still have your locals at Bondi, but you get all your backpacker inflow and that sort of thing, and it’s pretty crazy. Coogee’s similar as well. I still think there’s a great sense of community around here, and that would be nice to keep. Quinn If you look at the natural coastline, Bondi is just beautiful, the shape of it, the fact that it faces south. It’s such a magic place, but our footprint is very ugly. I lived on Beach Road for a number of years and you could just tell there’s no pride from the landlords in their properties. It’s all about extracting as much money as you can from renters and then not really putting anything back in to beautify the area. That’s unfortunate, because it’s an opportunity to have the most iconic beach in the country – the most known beach – something to actually be proud of. Once you turn around and you’re not facing the beach it’s just a massive dropped ball. Some of the blocks of apartments look like they were designed by a communist architect, and you know that some dodgy dealings went down to get those things off the ground. It’s a shame.
Don’t you think we’re lucky to have the choice between KFC, McDonalds and Hungry Jacks?
Quinn Oh, 100 per cent! As a lifeguard, being that close to the beach and to be able to walk across and watch this beautiful sea of polystyrene and straws and rubbish that just gets left on the sand each day, it’s just absolutely disgusting. Luke It’s embarrassing.
They should step up and just ban single-use plastics… Luke Another great thing about Bondi is you can ocean swim there by yourself and not worry about getting eaten by a shark. You can just jump out there and off you go. Except the other day, about three weeks ago, there was a fair bit of swell and Quinno and I had to swim a long way out. It was murky and there were little bits of weed in the water and the clarity wasn’t great. We were swimming over this huge dark patch and it started to move a little bit, then a little bit more. I was going, “Oh f*ck, I’m over a bait ball here.” Quinn Biggest bait ball I’ve ever seen. Luke I just shot off towards the sand and the next thing I see Quinn sort of doing this big, dog stroke out the back. “What about that f*cking bait ball!”
You may as well just be a piece of sashimi…
Luke 100 per cent, it was just a bit of salmon sashimi for me. I was just in there thinking I just do not want to be confused with any of these fish here.
Have you seen any sharks during all your swims?
Quinn I’ve seen them surfing and I actually didn’t feel that threatened, but I was sitting on a board. I’ve seen them swim just straight under me like that. They looked like they had somewhere to be, they didn’t seem interested in me. In the water, just swimming, knowing how slow a human is compared to a shark, that’s a worry.
Quinn, you’re a Bondi Rescue reality TV star…
Quinn As my wife Sheree says, I’m an extra. I’m in the background generally. They’re filming the whole time. You’re rigged up and there’s cameras and all that, and obviously I’m doing plenty of rescues. Intermittently they’ll make the show, but there’s so much that ends up on cutting room floor and all my greatest moments are there. If they ever do an outtakes I’d be featured heavily.
Has the show had an impact on your life? Would you say it’s changed your life in any way?
Quinn No, not really. I mean, what I like about it is, for the guys that are full-time, they can actually make a living on the side from that. I like that.
Guys like Reidy have worked hard and taken advantage of the opportunity…
Quinn Yeah, exactly. Reidy is worth his weight in gold, he’s the most generous guy. He saw the opportunity for what it was and worked hard. He didn’t just sit there, he did the work marketing himself and now he’s essentially transcended the show. He’s an MC, he works on radio, he commentates…
And he’s good at it…
And he’s good. He’s engaging, he’s fun. I did the Red Bull Defiance Race with him and that was one of the most brutal things of all time. He’s there with the GoPro, laughing and commentating while we’re just in the most suffering condition you could be in. I’ve just got my face hanging like a horse, and he’s there smiling and saying, “Hey Quinno, how’s it going?” It’s almost annoying how he can just embrace the hurt and be able to commentate at the same time. The other good thing is it does actually teach some sort of CPR, and I have heard of people that have learnt it from the show, just by watching it and being interested in it, and that has a positive effect. I think it’s a positive thing all round. I think it’s been good and it’s defied time.
It’s been 15 years…
Quinn Every year they say it’s the last year and then it just gets legs again and keeps coming back, it’s a good show.
Luke, you lead a double life as this beachy, knockabout guy, but you’ve also established this kickarse professional services firm…
Luke I’ve always been driven and I’ve always enjoyed challenges. I saw an opportunity to start an environmental planning consulting firm with another gent about twelve years ago. At the time, I had a big mortgage, we’d just bought our first place and didn’t have any money in the bank, and we’d just had Cooper. I thought, “Right, I think we can really make this work.”
How old were you?
Luke I was 31. I’m 43 now. We gave it a good crack. We had confidence in our skills and were extremely driven, and away we went. We’ve now got over 200 full-time people and seven offices and provide pretty much all environmental planning services. There’s two founders of the initial firm and there’s two founders of another firm that we joined forces with 18 months in. I think we had eight people and they had six, and now there’s three major shareholders in the company. It’s called EMM Consulting.
What’s your website?
Luke It’s What’s fantastic about that is it’s a great platform to have a positive influence, and we’re creating an environment where people can thrive, not just professionally but personally. It’s something I’m very passionate about. We’re great at what we do, but it’s bigger than that. We genuinely care about our people, and you only get one shot at life so I want to help people realise their potential through the company and also do good through that.
You’re still loving it after 12 years?
Luke To be honest with you, there are times when it’s overwhelming, no doubt about it. It sounds cliched, but I’m surrounded by great people that I learn from and draw inspiration from every day. It’s so full on. It’s a pressure environment, it’s a consulting firm – where’s the next job coming from? Once you’ve got an opportunity, it’s about winning it. Then you’ve got to deliver the best possible service and product. When you’ve got all these people and they’ve got families, you know, there’s pressure.
Do you ever find yourself morally conflicted, when you’re doing an environmental impact statement, for example?
Luke No. The worst thing that we could do for our clients, and our company, is to not be transparent and use scientific-based information as part of that. I mean, morally you wouldn’t do it, but there are agencies that sit above all the different environmental aspects. There’s the community, the stakeholders, the independent reviews…
There’s people checking on you?
Luke Yeah, all the way through. You just wouldn’t do it, you’d be crazy to. I’ll say one more thing about work: Culture eats strategy for breakfast… culture eats strategy for breakfast!
Did you coin that phrase?
Luke My chairman and I bounce it off each other. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if you don’t have the culture to execute, then it’s worthless.
How do you go about creating a good culture?
Luke Well, we’re a values led firm, so the key is you make decisions and your actions must be in accordance with your purpose, your vision and values. That’s non-negotiable. Whether it’s a new recruit at any level, whether it’s, “Do we take this project on or not?” as long as you’re acting in accordance with this, and everyone’s signed up for that – and you call people out on it when they don’t do it – then that culture provides you the best opportunity as the firm grows. That’s crucial. As the firm grows, you want to keep that, you want to build on it. You get lost otherwise. It’s so multidimensional, multifaceted, that if you don’t have key points of reference, things to hang your hat on, I don’t know how you’d do it. You’d burn out.
Let’s talk about this swim…You two are going to swim from England to France? You’re planning on swimming the English Channel? Why?
Quinn Yeah, it’s a very good question. I think, for me personally, I need big, scary goals to be motivated.
You’re 42 years-old now Quinn?
Yeah, I’m 42 years-old. This is kind of like the Mount Everest of swimming, and I think the stat is that more people have climbed Mount Everest than swum across the English Channel, so there’s always been, in the back of my mind, a massive amount of respect for anyone who attempts it. I’ve got a swimming background, but my body type is a challenge for this swim, and that gets me out of bed and gets me eating.
Why is that? You don’t have enough body fat?
Quinn I’m lean, yeah, so that’s a bit of a challenge. Luke And the cold. What about the cold, mate? Quinn That’s it, yeah. The cold, that’s a big, key part of it. I just think the drive for all this goes back to my childhood. Growing up, I think what both parents instilled in me was a rock-solid work ethic. I watched my dad work two and three jobs. Mum worked two jobs as well. All the getting up and taking us to swimming training too. They worked hard so my brothers, Sean and Larn, and I could grow up in Bronte and be educated at Waverley College, because they knew it was a great school. I also remember Dad, he would say quietly before a race, “Take no prisoners,” you know? Which just means do your best. And he would reward effort, not results. I think that really kind of echoed in my ears when I got sick with the Crohn’s.
Can we talk about that?
Quinn I was married to Sheree, we had Xavier on the way, our first son. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was twelve years-old, which is an inflammatory bowel disease. That then turned into high grade dysplasia, which is basically precancerous changes in the cells. The gastro surgeon was telling me, “This is 100 per cent turning into cancer. You either get your whole large bowel taken out or this flicks off into your liver, and then we’ll be having a different conversation, we’re not talking about surgery, we’re talking about something else.” I just said, “Look, wait until Xavier’s born. I want to wait until I see my first son before you do this.” I tried alternative therapies for a while, when I came back and it was worse. I was just trying everything to get to the point of not having to have the surgery, because they said that I have to have a colostomy bag. I’ve got a full time job with Stryker – I’ve been working in medical devices and as a paramedic – but a lot of my time is spent at the beach and I’m a lifeguard, so my head was just spinning.
F*ck mate…
Quinn So, I waited, I had the surgery, and for three months I was working on the beach with a rash vest on and not telling anyone because I didn’t know if they could reverse the surgery.
You had your large intestine removed?
Quinn I had my entire large intestine taken out.
And you had a colostomy bag?
Quinn I had a bag, I had a colostomy bag for three months.
You worked on the beach as a lifeguard with the colostomy bag and no one even knew?
I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was just so self conscious about it.
How old were you then?
Quinn This was in 2014.
I can’t believe you managed to keep that on the downlow the whole time…
Quinn Yeah, I know, I kept it just to myself. I didn’t know if it could be reversed and I wasn’t really ready to accept it or deal with it. And I was thinking, “How can I be attractive to Sheree?” I just remember, she was like, “I do not care about that one bit.” I just remember how good she made me feel. Such a legend, a massive overachievement on my behalf! So, my baby’s born, I go to hospital, I have this huge surgery and I’m getting visited with my newborn baby and I’m in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and I’m full of drugs and looking a bit like an ice addict. I said to Sheree, “Let’s go for a coffee, babe,” and it was so embarrassing for her, I had all these fluid and medicine bags hanging off me and stuff, and then I would walk up the street and see a little baby. “Hello little baby, I’ve got a baby too.” And they were scared of me.

Because you were so morphed up?
Quinn Yeah, I was so morphined up. Then I went back in, finally got out, and three months later went back in and had the second round of surgery. They do a thing called a J-pouch, which is so your small intestine does the work of everything. They were able to put everything back inside. But then I got complications with that as well. I got sent home, and then I get sepsis. Sheree’s a nurse, but she’s also pretty tough. I’m sweating through clothes like this and I can barely move. She’s like, “You’ve just had an operation, of course you’re not going to be feeling well.” I said, “No, something’s not right.” I was hallucinating, and then she finds me on the floor in the bathroom and I couldn’t get up. I said, “Oh babe, you’re going to have to call an ambulance.” She goes, “I’ll take you to the GP.” I peel myself off the floor, go to the GP, he just looks at me and calls an ambulance straight away.
You had sepsis?
Quinn Yeah, I had sepsis. I went back in and had another three days in the hospital. When I was in for the reconstruction I had an ileus, which is like a blockage in the bowel. I was in the hospital for that and no pain medication would work. I’m sitting in the hospital with Xavier, and that’s when I thought, this is probably the lowest I’ve been in my life and I want my story to be different to this. I had this overwhelming memory of my dad and what he had instilled in me, and how much I respected him, and I wanted that from my son. So, I just thought, “Well, at least if I’m ever telling him in the future, ‘You can do this, you can overcome this, that and the other,’ you know, I don’t want him to say, “What would you know? What have you ever done?” That was the moment when I decided to enter the Melbourne Ironman. Eleven months after that surgery, the lifeguards – Whippet, Reidy, Bacon, myself, Bagus and Bisho, but Bisho got crook the night before and couldn’t race – all went down there and did the Melbourne Ironman. I got to carry Xavier across the finish line. I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is the right story.”
That was 11 months after you had your last surgery?
Quinn Yeah, it was a quick turnaround.
So they’ve been able to fix pretty much everything?
Quinn Yeah, I’m very lucky.
You don’t have the bag anymore?
Quinn No, I don’t have the bag anymore. They took out a lot. They took out the whole thing. It’s just the small intestine there now, but because they took it out, and that was the area that was affected, essentially that’s how they cure you. Obviously I don’t have much left in there now, so I can’t really lose any more, because where do you go from there?
I’ve known you for well over ten years and I never knew any of this stuff…
Quinn I know. I suppose it’s just… why do you tell that story and how do you tell that story? So, that was the story. But that was just motivation for me as well. That’s where a lot of this comes from, and I think Luke’s very similar. He’s a phenomenal father and has values that are very much aligned between the two of us, in how we want our kids to grow up and to look at us. I like them going and seeing me do exercise or compete. I’m not breaking any world records or anything like that, but if there’s big challenges that they see me do, then I just want that to rub off. Luke Yeah, it gives them confidence and shows them it’s all about having a go, just having a crack.

Luke, I suppose Quinn probably motivates you a lot, after hearing that…
Oh, for sure. Look, I just want to see what I can do with this life. You only get one, so I just want to give it a crack, and I think it’s really positive role modelling for our kids, their friends, the team at work – if you prioritise you will find the time. That’s a huge challenge, to still perform your role in business and with your family and your friends, and also find the time to train. Quinn’s very humble, and just to reflect on our friendship, and why it’s so good feeding off each other, we did a Vladswim, a 10 kilometre race, probably a month ago, and that’s the furthest I’d raced. I’m not from a swimming background.
So you’re not one of these guys that goes and wins the Bondi to Bronte…
Luke No, definitely not.
You would consider yourself an average swimmer?
Luke Oh, 100 per cent yes. I’m not from a swimming background and I’d never done a squad session until this year, and that’s part of the challenge for me. In the Vladswim, you know, 10 kilometres is all right. Come on, you can do that. You punch it out and it feels pretty good. The tide had changed and was running pretty strong by the time I finished, but I got it done and I get onto the beach and Quinn’s standing there under the finish line, massive smile on his face, cheering me on. It makes you feel good. “Well done Lukey. Yeah, you’ve done it. That’s awesome mate, fantastic.” I go, “Quinn, how’d you go, mate? How’d you go?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, I went pretty well.” I repeated, “How’d you go?” He said, “Oh, I won. I won the whole thing.” He came first in the whole race.
He won the first Bondi to Bronte ever, didn’t he?
Luke Yeah, I know. But he would never brag. He made me feel like I’d won it, and that’s a real friend. I probably came in last. But that’s just Quinn. I smiled, put my arm around him and we high-fived, and then we probably had brekkie and a bloody Mary, or a beer or something.
If you went and attempted this Channel swim now, would you make it?
Luke No, no way in the world.
You’ve got five months to prepare? What do you have to do?
Luke For me, it’s technique, trying to improve my technique, so I get it more efficient while I get the kilometres up at the same time. A lot depends on the water temperature and currents we get, but I feel confident around that. I’ve had ice baths for a number of years and I’ve meditated for a number of years so I feel like my head will be okay. Who knows when I get there. For me, it’s around technique. Quinn There’s a real chance that both of us won’t get across. It’s not an easy swim. Better swimmers than me have attempted it and not crossed.
It’s not just a matter of having the money and going overseas and saying, “I’m going to do this…”
Quinn No, not at all. Luke No, a lot depends on the conditions. Quinn It’s actually going to be f*cking hard. Luke Personally, if I don’t get across, I’ll be back as soon as possible to do it again, and I’ll keep going until I get it done. Quinn We’ll have to get dragged out, for sure.
What’s the water temperature?
Quinn It’ll probably be between 15 and 17 degrees, if we’re lucky.
And you can’t wear wetties?
Quinn No, you can’t wear wetties.
Just in Speedos?
Quinn It’s a fully ratified swim with an official on the boat. They make sure you don’t touch the boat. You get your food handed to you on a broom pole or a dog leash, they throw it out as you’re swimming. You’ve got to try and be quick because the currents are moving fast and you’ve got to roll over and drink as quick as you can, throw it back and keep swimming.
Can you put some oil on?
Quinn You can put some grease on. It’s probably more for the jelly fish to slip off you, rather than to keep you warm. I don’t know if it keeps you that warm.
And how far is it, as the crow flies?
Luke As the crow flies? It’s 34 kilometres.
Back in 1923, it took some poor bugger 90 kilometres because of the currents…
Luke Yeah, Henry Sullivan. We’re expecting to swim around 45 kilometres.
How many laps is that in a 50-metre pool?
Luke I don’t even want to think about it. Quinn It’s a lot.
Are you in one of those cages?
Quinn No, I think they used to do it in the cages, but it’s probably just more of a hazard. I don’t think there’s sharks to worry about in that water temperature.
Could you go 90 kilometres if it was required? You don’t get to sit on the boat and have a little rest?
No. Luke No. Quinn The more you stop, the more you go sideways and the further you’re going to have to swim. You’ve got to try and stay in one direction the whole time.
Have people died?
Quinn There have been a number of fatalities. I did hear of a guy that tried to do it by himself and just towed a little canoe with his food and stuff. They found the canoe, but not the swimmer. One of the concerns is if the cold affects you but you’re not showing the signs of it. You can go straight past shivering and into a state where you just drop underwater and no one can find you. It happened to a guy in the US. They need to keep a good eye on you. That’s their job, that’s part of why we’re paying these guys.
Who is your support crew?
Quinn Sheree, my wife, will be on board. Luke Jade, my wife, Big G (Gary Flowers) who is chairman of EMM’s Board, and my father-in-law, George (Quigley). We’re still trying to work out the rest.
How many do you need?
Quinn You can have up to eight people. If anyone’s interested, please get in touch. I have a mate named Murph Renford who is a triple crown swimmer, I’m hoping to get him over there. He’s got a young family so it will be difficult. He’s been a bit of a mentor and, you know, he’s the son of Des Renford, the king of the channel. Murph was the one that put the idea in my head initially. I’d love him to be on the boat, but we’ll just see. That would be a massive win. Locally, I have a very good support network with my coach Robbie Fernandez, open water specialist Vlad Mravec and decorated distance swimmers Scott and Emily Miers, Matt Fernandez, Michel Saad and Justin Hanby. I’m also doing ice baths with Dean Gladstone.
Do you need a medic or anything like that?
Quinn Well, they kind of say that you need to have someone there.
You’re a paramedic, right?
Quinn I was a paramedic. I’m going to have an EpiPen on board, especially after I went to the dermatologist and just found out I’m apparently allergic to cold water.
What the f*ck?
Quinn I’ve been having a reaction to the cold. Anything under 20 degrees, I’m getting cold urticaria. I just come out in a rash in the cold water. I think that as long as it doesn’t hit your airway, you’re fine. I haven’t felt any airway involvement at all. But I’ve got to have an EpiPen on board anyway, just in case.
How far are you guys swimming now each week?
Quinn We’re doing 25-30 kilometres now. It’s going to increase to 40 soon, and then the occasional 50 plus.
You’ll be doing 50 kilometres a week for the last month, say, before you go?
Luke Yeah, it’s a lot.
What date are you going over?
Quinn From September 6 to 15.
How are you going to put weight on when you’re swimming 50 kilometres a week?
Quinn That’s exactly right. I spoke to Trent Grimsey, who holds the record for the channel, and he said he tried doing it the right way and he couldn’t do it. He just ate McDonalds every day for a month before he went and he put on five kilos. I don’t mind McDonalds, so I’ve got that up my sleeve.
You’re having technique coaching at the moment, Luke?
Luke Yeah. I had a session on Wednesday with Claire Owen from Swimlab and that was awesome.
You notice the difference straight away?
Luke I just know there’s a lot of scope for improvement, so that’s exciting. I’m getting the kilometres done, but with a pretty inefficient style. Then there’s injury management too.
You guys are raising money for Sophie Smith’s Running for Premature Babies; can you tell us a bit about that?
Quinn My second son, Ryder, was born at 27 weeks. He was only one kilo. He was resuscitated and everything. It was horrific. It was a pretty awful experience all round, but we were very fortunate how well he did, and continues to do. When we were leaving, when we finally got to take him home after three months in the NICU up at Royal Hospital for Women, we felt like we’d dodged every landmine. There was a high chance of cerebral palsy after the first 72 hours. Little babies like that can have brain bleeds pretty easily but we got through that. Then he came out with his skin kind of peeling off a bit and they said, “Oh, this is this rare skin disease,” which sounded like an absolute nightmare for the rest of his life. It turned out not to be that, but it was just like this massive rollercoaster ride. We got him out and then, before we left, I just told the doctor there that he was completely awesome, the nurses were just amazing.
This is up at Royal Hospital for Women?
Quinn Yeah. I said, “Look, I will come back one day and do something,” and he said, “If you’re going to do anything, don’t just donate to the organisation, or the hospital. It has to be for the NICU, because otherwise we won’t see the money.”
What’s the NICU?
Quinn The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Then, speaking to Reidy, we were lifeguarding together at Tamarama and he asked if we were doing anything. I said I would like to actually raise money to get something for Royal Women’s and he mentioned Sophie Smith from Running For Premature Babies. We got together, had a coffee, and she’s just a terrific woman, just an absolute legend. She lost her triplets over several months and then her husband had brain cancer. We said, “What do you need?” One of the things that I don’t think they had at the time was enough ventilators. As we got talking, we realised my son Ryder had been on the ventilator that Sophie donated for the first part of his life. That had kept him alive. I was just like, well, that’s the perfect thing to pay forward. We asked about the cost and were told it was $74,000. Okay, how can we raise that? Luke, through his family and his extended family, and through me, has had massive experience with premature babies and losing babies as well, so we were like, “Let’s get this together.” We met with Sophie again last week and we’re just trying to raise $74,000 for another ventilator.
Were any of your kids born premature Luke?
Luke None of my children, no. I’m very fortunate to have three healthy kids, Cooper, Ava and Darci, and I love them so much. But friends and family, I won’t go into it, but they have had different challenges. It really resonates with Jade and I.
These ventilators and humidicribs, all these things that people like you and Sophie are donating, it seems like a guaranteed way of saving lives…
Quinn 600 babies will be put on that ventilator every year. There’s a real need.
Why are they relying on people like you guys and Sophie to donate them? Why isn’t the government stepping in and buying these things?
Quinn Yeah, it’s a very good question. I think a lot depends on what promises are made, what government is in power at the time and what funding they get. Some politicians, like Matt Thistlethwaite, focus on hospital infrastructure, some politicians prefer trams.
You work in the medical industry Quinn…
Quinn Yeah, for Stryker, a global med tech company that does everything from robotic knee replacements, hip replacements, integrated theatres and all the tooling needed for surgery, as well as my division, which is the best in class powered ambulance stretchers, stair descenders, defibrillators and public access automated external defibrillators.
Those stretchers are amazing…
Quinn The stretchers are second to none. I was a paramedic and I had a back injury from lifting manual stretchers and this thing just removes all of those issues. Paramedics love it. But what you find is, for these hospitals, is competition for the funding between departments. They have this list of things that they want and they might get two of the eight they ask for, and then the money goes elsewhere. They may have asked for ventilators, but only get humidicribs. So, it’s just filling that gap. And you’re right, it’s the fact that it’s the easiest thing in the world to get behind a defenseless baby that’s born too early and needs support, but unfortunately it’s just one of those gaps that still exists.
So, that’s a state government responsibility, right? Budgets for hospitals, they’re basically competing for taxpayers’ money with light rails, stadiums, all that stuff…
Quinn Yeah, well, the health budget… so, you’ve got the hospitals then also competing with the ambulance service as well. It’s obviously not a perfect system.
Did it frustrate you guys when you saw a stadium that was in pretty good condition, other than the dunnies and the sausage rolls taking too long… how did you feel when they announced they were going to spend all that money demolishing a stadium and rebuilding the same thing?
Quinn I love the Sydney Football Stadium. I thought it was a great stadium to watch footy. Luke We grew up watching footy there, when the ‘Tahs were on. I remember there used to be rows of us sitting there, watching the footy, drinking schooners out of plastic cups, they were great times. Quinn To see the hole in the ground now, yeah, it’s very strange.
Do you think it was a complete waste of money, knocking it down and rebuilding it?
Luke I think money could have been spent better in other places. Quinn Like the light rail. Luke I’m pretty conservative in my views. Unless I actually know all the facts I don’t provide a view. With regards to budgetary spend and that sort of thing, I don’t really care about politics, apart from how they apply to my work. I find other things in life more enjoyable to focus on, like sport, family and friends. I leave politics aside.
You don’t want to be uninformed and opinionated, like me?
Luke That’s your job!
So you’re trying to raise $74,000 to buy a ventilator…
Quinn Yeah, that’s the plan.
Which, throughout its lifespan, will save about 600 premature babies’ lives?
Quinn Easily, 600 babies every year, at least until better technology comes out.
How are you going to raise that money? How can the readers of our little publication help?
Quinn We’ve got a page on Sophie’s Running For Premature Babies website, and there’s also a website that Luke and I have individually. And then, if you click on that link, it’ll send you to Sophie’s page and we have a combined account that is administration fee free. Every dollar – literally every single dollar – that gets put into this donation goes toward this ventilator.
Even your flights overseas and stuff, you’re paying for all that?
Quinn We’re paying for them, yes. Luke Yeah, we’re paying for those. This has nothing to do with the cost of our boat or the cost for us to get there. This is all for the charity.
So every dollar that gets donated goes toward that $74,000 target…
Luke The lot. Quinn Yes, bar none.
Not many charities operate like that…
Quinn No, and that’s just a credit to Sophie. She just said, “Admin free. This is all going to be for that.” Then Luke’s idea, which is a good one, was if there’s money left over, then it should be used to lobby government for more funding for these things. Luke I think about how you get bang for your buck as well. There’s the tangible, and that’s to have a real, immediate impact. There’s also the intangible, initially, and that has the potential for a really big bang for your buck. And that’s to advocate for funding to be directed in this area and such a worthwhile cause. We think that’ll be highly appropriate. What gives you the best opportunity to have the biggest bang for your buck? I think that’s some sort of advocacy. It would be targeted. We would be engaging with Sophie on that, of course. It’s something Quinn and I would love to support.
What are the URLs?
Quinn I’m Luke And I’m
This may sound silly, but are you scared?
Quinn Yeah mate, of course. This is the most scary thing I’ve ever done, because it’s got a high failure rate, because of the elements, because of going so far. There’s two tides over there, a neap tide and then a spring tide. This window that Luke and I are in is the neap tide, so there’s less water moving in and out. As soon as you go to September 16 onwards, then you get into a spring tide, which makes it more difficult.
So you can have another crack later, as long as it’s within the nine-day window?
Quinn When you wake up, the captain will give you the call. If you’re the first swimmer you can say yes or no. If you say no, you go to number five, and then the second swimmer gets the opportunity. If he says no, the third gets it, and so on. You’re just hoping for reasonable weather in that period. It’s very unpredictable as well, which makes it more challenging. It’s a scary thing and we’re putting ourselves out there.
You just have to jump in and do it I suppose…
People will hopefully be putting their hard-earned money towards a charity that we really believe in, so we’ve got no choice. For me personally, self-doubt does creep in at times, for sure, when you have a bad session or something like that. After a kilometre, you’re struggling and you’re thinking, “F*ck, how the hell am I going to do this?”
If things don’t work out and the stars don’t align, in terms of the conditions, are you just going to keep trying this until you’ve crossed?
Quinn Yeah, for sure. Luke Absolutely.
In an ideal world, what does the future hold for you guys?
I want to increase my scope to give to others. I want to be able to do more community work and I want to be able to be present with my family and my friends, and just get the most out of life. I’m proud of my family, I’m proud of my friends and I’m proud of my business. I love the community, I just want to see what is possible.
What about you Quinn? In an ideal world, what does the future hold for you?
Quinn I think, personally, I don’t want this to be the final challenge. I want this to be a pivotal moment and the biggest thing I’ve ever done, which it will be. I’m enjoying the process of actually having the commitment and the mindset to get up at 4.20am and do the kilometres required to achieve this goal. Whatever form that takes in the future, I just want to still have that mindset moving forward. Whether it’s a goal professionally or sport-wise, I still want to continue to have that mindset, because I feel like that makes me the happiest. And then, for my kids, I like the idea of not wishing for them to just be happy, but arming them with the tools to deal with the challenges they face so they will grow up to be the best versions of themselves. That’s what I want for them. And for me, just to try and be the best father and husband that I can possibly be, so my wife loves me to the end and my kids grow up and have the right values and mindset, so they can have a positive impact as well ●