by By Sophie Moeller
TOM Mwanza used to think there were sharks in swimming pools.
His birthplace of Zambia is a landlocked country and up until six weeks ago he'd never been in water, let alone swam five laps of a 50m pool.
Cut to this Saturday and the local school bus driver and jazz musician is set to compete, with three others in team Elite Force, in the 2018 Samson Challenge.
The annual Our Kids fundraiser puts participants through nine gruelling challenges, which include a farmer's walk with jerry cans, a prowler push, 130kg truck tyre flip, burpee challenge, 2x2km run, 1km swim, the sled plug and a crazy obstacle course.
The quickest team to complete all the challenges wins the coveted Samson title and bragging rights for the next 12 months.
His swim coach, Matt George of Future Health, is amazed by Tom's progress.
"Tom had literally never been immersed in water a few weeks ago. He has worked so hard and, as a result of his determination, improved out of sight.
"Tom has trained almost every day so he can take on the Samson Challenge. He is swimming so well. Not only is Tom on track to complete the swim, he's ready to blow a few people out of the water.
"I'm so happy for him and can't wait to see him smash it,” said Mr George.
Tom first enlisted the help of coach Steve Shaw from Elite Force 18 months ago to help him conquer a bad back. He continued on to get fit.
Since arriving in Australia seven years ago, when he met his wife Sharon, he had harboured a desire to fully immerse himself in the Aussie seaside culture but didn't think there was a chance he would take on his biggest fear and learn to swim.
"In Zambia we literally have fish coming out of the taps. I've always been scared of water. Eventually I decided to take on Samson, but when I began my first week of lessons I was freaking out. But once I learned how to breathe and learn the techniques, I started to relax,” said Tom.
The Samson Challenge raises more than $95,000 through the OUR KIDS charity to purchase equipment for the children's ward and special care nursery at Lismore Base Hospital.
The children on the 122 bus he drives to school each day are saying they will come along in support, and so are those who know him from the Southern Cross University bar, where he runs the Wednesday open-mic nights.
Tom is undertaking a Bachelor of Music at the university and has just released his original Afro hip-hop track Full Speed on Spotify.
Tom said he didn't need to go full speed in the pool. This all-rounder has already achieved what he set out to do - he can swim.
"I can now race the fish.”
For more information about the Samson Challenge, phone Rebekka Battista at the Our Kids office on 66202705 or 0438 417 085.