DURING his days as a state junior champion and aspiring Olympian, Matt Storey would swim kilometres every week.
Yesterday he managed 50 metres each way in The Forum pool, but they were undoubtedly the most poignant and satisfying laps of his life.
Two months ago, the 23-year-old was confined to a wheelchair and preparing for the worst-case scanario after a four-year battle with recurring Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But just when all hope seemed lost, doctors decided to experiment with a new immunotherapy drug from the US called Brentuximab, and the results have been remarkable.
Within days of his first dose, the physiotherapy student and swimming coach was back on his feet, enjoying some quality of life.
The only problem was his new medication was not covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, leaving him and his parents facing a bill of potentially $160,000.
All of which explains why he came to be back in the water yesterday afternoon.
Friends had organised a fund-raising swimathon at University of Newcastle, and Storey opened proceedings with 100m freestyle in reasonable time.
"I came off the turn and my heart rate started going through the roof,'' he said afterwards.
"The second lap hurt a bit.
"But it was just good to be able to get in and swim, to be able to do that sort of thing.''
Yesterday's event raised $45,000 -- with raffle tickets circulating that could reap a further $15,000 -- and Storey was touched by the generosity of his supporters.
More than 250 people swam for his cause.
One teenager he coaches, Emma McDonald, churned out 200 50m laps, while the Lintott siblings - Matt, Kate, Elizabeth and Annabelle - swam 17km between them.
One of Storey's closest friends, Ben Kozary, was the largest individual contributor, having collected $2500 from sponsors.
"It's just really nice to have everyone here from all aspects of my life,'' Storey said.
"I've got the kids I coach here, who I really do adore, I've got my friends, family and work colleagues.
"Guys I used to train and race against, it's been nice to relive the glory days with them.
"It's really, really good.''
Storey has never lacked fighting spirit but yesterday's inspiring turnout, combined with the wonders of modern medicine, have provided him with a priceless morale boost.
"The thing that this drug has given is me is that now there's no time frame on my life,'' he said.
"Before this, the nurses were discussing end-of-life scanarios, but since I've been on this drug, they're really happy with how much I've improved.
"They're not saying: 'You might have two years left' or whatever, we're just going to see what happens.
"It's definitely given me goals again that I want to achieve, like going to the World Transplant Games and hopefully breaking a few records.
"Just being able to enjoy life again is the main thing.''