My toughest opponent wasn’t in the water, it was in my blood

One year ago if you’d asked 32-year-old Rob Maitland to swim 18km from Europe to Africa, he would have struggled to find the energy to even think about it.

But he recently achieved what seemed impossible and is now in the history books as the 17th Australian to complete the challenging Strait of Gibraltar swim.

What is even more astounding is that only a year ago, he had just finished gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma.

A former water polo Olympian, Rob was training for a similar long distance swim when he discovered he had blood cancer.

“When I was swimming laps, I felt really short of breath,” Rob said.

“But I just passed it off as a chest infection,” he said.

“I thought I had lost my fitness because I hadn’t been in the pool much since retiring.”

On the way home from work at the start of summer holidays, a routine X-ray surprised everyone. A huge tumour had developed in his chest, around 14cm wide.

“The reason why I had trouble breathing was because one of my lungs couldn’t expand” he said.

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Several trips to the doctor and numerous tests later, he was told the news he never expected. At Christmas, just one week after he purchased his first home, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Rob then underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy for eight months to rid his body of the cancer.

Beating Blood Cancer

One day before he attended the Leukaemia Foundation’s Light the Night walk, Rob found out that he had the all clear from the doctor – he had beaten blood cancer.

Despite a few ups and downs since that time last year, Rob has maintained his positive attitude and healthy lifestyle, training and completing several long distance swims leading up to the bigger challenge in Europe.

“It was a special moment completing that swim,” he said.

Amazingly, Rob’s 65-year-old father joined him in the swim, but had to pull out just 500m short of the finish line due to exhaustion.

“It was great to be able to support Dad during the swim just as he, my girlfriend, mum and friends had all supported me when I was going through my biggest life challenge,” he said.

Light the Night

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Rob will again walk at this year’s Light the Night and share his story as white lantern ambassador.

You can join him and thousands of other Aussies across the country on Friday October 9 at Light the Night.

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