Open water debutante leads The Armidale School home in Coffs Jetty Swims

The Armidale School team of more than 160 participants were a sea of blue at the Beachside Radiology Coffs Ocean Swims 2023.

IDEAL conditions and a commitment to finding pace and rhythm early paid off for Isabella Henderson who led home a team of 161 swimmers from The Armidale School (TAS) in the 2000m Beachside Radiology Coffs Ocean Swim on Sunday 26 March.

Attendance by TAS at the Coffs Oceans Swims is a tradition the school is proud of.

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A previous age champion in the pool at TAS, it was the first open water event for the fifteen-year-old from Middlebrook Station, Scone, who crossed the line in a time of 33.27, placing second in the girls 14-19 category, 8th female and 15th finisher overall.

“I love the beach but it was my first ever open water swim and a whole new experience, so I wasn’t quite sure how I would go,” Isabella told News Of The Area.

“I decided to go out pretty hard at the start to try and find some open water and other swimmers of a similar pace and then kept with them,” she said.

“The calm conditions meant it was quite easy to see the buoys and every time I went around one, I just put my head down and focused on the next one.

“I was pleased with my time though I had nothing to compare it to, and was pretty surprised to be the first TAS swimmer home,” she said.

It was a particularly fitting result for Isabella who was a driving force behind a week of activities at TAS raising awareness of mental health, and in particular, the Blue Tree Project mental wellness program.

“It was also nice for us all to wear blue caps and tape around our arms to spread the message that it’s okay not to be okay, and we had our own little blue tree in the sand there to remind us all of that,” said Isabella, who was joined by her sister Georgia in the 2000m event, while younger sibling Fi swam in the 300m event.

Not long behind were two other TAS girls, Lily Lorimer (33:59) and Prue Black (34.47).

The first TAS boy home was sixteen-year-old James Collum in 36.00.

Eleven-year-old Edward Pengilley from Tamworth was the youngest member of the team, joining older siblings Hamish, Archie and Isobel in the water.

Such was the strength in numbers that TAS made up around 40 percent of entries in the 2000m event.

Coordinator Jim Pennington said it was terrific to return to the iconic event after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic and road closures caused by flood damage preventing them from attending.

“It was a wonderful cross section of our community involved from students, staff, parents and our number one supporter, the Principal Dr Horton, who witnessed the event for the first time.

“Apart from the swimmers we had nine of our Year 12 students who achieved their surf bronze medallions last year and three staff on rescue boards in the water giving additional water safety support.

“We’re also grateful that the organisers Sawtell Surf Life Saving Club, who partner us with our surf life program, allowed us to have our own ‘blue wave’ start,” he said.

“All in all it was a magnificent day for everyone involved and a terrific wrap up to Blue Week activities at TAS.”

For more on the Blue Tree Project, visit

By Andrea FERRARI and Tim HUGHES

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