From illness to strength: How swimming saved Helen Parkes

Leigh, 8 July 2024 – Helen Parkes, a spirited 70-year-old from the close-knit community of Leigh is participating in The Big Swim to raise awareness and funds for Coastguard Tautiaki Moana. Her participation is inspired by her personal journey of overcoming illness and her deep gratitude for the volunteer’s lifesaving efforts. 

In 2021, Helen suffered from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and post-viral syndrome, struggling with chronic asthma and high blood pressure. Desperate for a solution, she discovered cold water immersion to heal herself. On 6 February 2022, she took her first dip in the ocean, a moment that marked the beginning of her recovery. 

“At first, I could barely swim 20 meters because I was so chronically fatigued,” Helen recalls. “But I kept at it, swimming every day, and within weeks, I managed to swim 300 meters. It took six months to come off all the medication, and I haven’t had any since then.” 

Helen’s daily morning swims, just after sunrise, have become an important part of her routine. She has pledged to swim 25km for Coastguard’s Big Swim. “When I read about this fundraiser in the newsletter, it was a no-brainer for me to take part,” Helen says.

For the past nine years, Helen has been donating monthly to Coastguard, an organisation she holds dear. Living in a seaside town, she has witnessed firsthand the vital work of Coastguard volunteers bringing people home safely.  

The Big Swim celebrates the joy of swimming while raising funds to support the volunteers who dedicate countless hours to keeping Kiwis safe on the water. Throughout July, more than 1,200 participants across the country are challenging themselves by swimming their chosen distances and seeking sponsorship from friends, family, and colleagues. 

Inspired by Helen’s story? Support her by donating through her fundraising page. To participate, or learn more about The Big Swim, visit


For more information, contact:  
Ben Parsons 
Coastguard Tautiaki Moana Senior Communications Advisor  
[email protected] 

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity