PE teacher paddling into world record books

Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Australian Teacher Magazine

PE teacher and lifeguard Juliana Bahr-Thomson is hoping to paddle her way into the Guinness World Records book – with a 1000 kilometre journey from Newcastle to Noosa on her surfboard.

While the winter months usually find Bahr-Thomson, 27, in a school gym, this year the endurance athlete will be hitting the open water to raise money for the White Ribbon foundation and ocean conservation group Surfrider.

The challenge follows a successful charity paddle from Newcastle to Bondi last year and will take up to two months to complete.

Sitting on a Newcastle beach, Bahr-Thomson tells Australian Teacher Magazine the conditions are ideal. It’s the logistics that are proving difficult – she has yet to lock in an on-water support crew.

“Travelling north, I know for a fact that I will be paddling directly over a Great White breeding ground,” she says. “So, if I don’t have anyone out in the water and I’m relying on someone to launch a jet ski or boat, that’s fragile minutes that I might not have.”

News of the record attempt is already causing a buzz at Waratah Technology High, where she works as a casual teacher.

“The kids all know about it,” she says. “They always quiz me in class and in the playground.”

Visiting local schools to talk about her paddle, Bahr-Thomson was delighted with the response from Warners Bay Public School.

After hearing about the harmful effects of plastic in the ocean, students held a special plastic-free lunch, with all food brought in reuseable containers.

“They called it Nude Food Day and the whole school got involved,” Bahr-Thomson says.“They ended up raising $500. It was just great to see the teachers really getting behind the initiative and encouraging the kids to have that greater understanding of their impact on the world.”

A large majority of Bahr-Thomson’s fundraising will also go to the White Ribbon foundation. As a victim of family violence growing up, she says she wants to prove that someone’s past doesn’t need to shape their future.

“I see it all too often around schools and with kids,” she says. “They’ve had a really horrible background and they’ve got this anger against the world and I’m just trying to prove that you don’t need to hold onto that because its only affecting you and you can make yourself anything you want.”

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