After winning a Rhodes Scholarship and enduring the successful struggle for life by his premature baby daughter, Scott Draper is about to take another huge challenge.
He and another five young Australians, all studying for doctorates at Oxford University, will attempt to swim the English Channel next month, to raise money for a charity that helped to save little Holly Draper's life nearly four years ago.
They will take on one of the most difficult stretches of open water in the world, to bolster the funds of the Women and Infants research Foundation at King Edward memorial Hospital. They will also raise money for the Fund for Children at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital in the UK.
Four of the six swimmers in the team are UWA graduates; three are Rhodes Scholars; one is a general Sir Monash Award winner; and two of them went to school together in Perth.
The currents that swirl around the English Channel are nothing compared to the links that connect these swimmers - and lead back to a tiny preterm baby fighting for her life at KEMH.
Scott Draper (2006 Rhodes Scholar) and Travers McLeod (2007 WA Rhodes Scholar and member of the team) didn't know each other when Holly was born four months early in 2006. But Travers' mother, Gemma McLeod, was already working on finding the best nutrition for Holly and other preterm babies. Her PhD with Winthrop Professors Peter Hartmann and Karen Simmer investigated how to optimise the nutrition of human milk for their specific needs. During her research, she met Holly.
Another of Professor Hartmann's PhD students working on an aspect of human milk is Claire Molinari. She is the sister of one of the Oxford swimming team. Like Gemma's, her project is linked to the neonatal unit at KEMH. Her brother Michael Molinari won the Beazley Medal when he finished high school in Perth. He then went to Melbourne University. His schoolmate, Hsien Chan, is also in the team. He studied medicine at UWA and won a General Sir John Monash Award which took him to Oxford where he met up with the others.
Tackling the Channel with Scott, Travers, Hsien and Michael are 2007 Rhodes Scholar Eric Knight, from NSW, and UWA graduate Laith Tapper, the only team member with long distance open water swimming experience. He has completed the Rottnest Channel swim twice: as part of a team of four in 2008 and as a duo with his sister last year.
The Aussies at Oxford have been training for nearly a year, swimming 12km a week in indoor pools. Six weeks ago they braved the chilly English spring (10C maximum) for their first swim at an outdoor triathlon training centre, where the water temperature was 13C.
The water in the Channel is expected to be around the 15C mark when the team dives in at Dover on July 11, taking advantage of the first spring tide. They plan to do the swim the traditional way, without wetsuits. They will wear ordinary bathers and coat their skin with animal fat to keep warm
The shortest distance between England and France is 34 kilometres. The men plan to swim relay legs of an hour at a time, hoping to maintain a speed of 3km an hour, against the tides that can move at up to two metres per second. They estimate the crossing will take between 12 and 15 hours, much of that in complete darkness.
The team will rely on a pilot boat to guide them through one of the world's busiest shipping routes, with more than 400 ships a day passing through.
To donate to the team's charities, go to http://www.mycause.com.au/mycause/raise_money/fundraise.php?id=4934
Published in UWA News, 14 June 2010.