Meet The Locals: Brian Cook, CEO and Director of the Geelong Cats
While Torquay resident Brian Cook may spend his days running a busy AFL club and being the Chair of Barwon Health, he still makes time for the important things.
This includes a morning dip at Cosy Corner with a bunch of mates who love a swim as much as he does.
You’re the CEO and Director of the Geelong Cats. How has the pandemic affected business for the AFL?
It’s been a tough time. We had to stand down 100 of our staff and send all of our players home for a period. The players came back about a week ago, but we still have staff who’ll be stood down until August, it’s been quite a traumatic experience for a lot of people. We’ve also basically had no revenue at all, because all of our businesses, we have three or four including a gym and a food and beverage business all had to shut down. There’s no revenue coming in at all apart from some website merchandising, so it’s been very challenging.
Do you think it’ll be some time before we see big crowds at games again?
Yeah, I think so. There’s talk about crowds coming back sometime near the end of the year, but I’m a little sceptical. I think that we probably won’t get crowds back anywhere near the extent we had until we find a vaccine. So I’m hoping that we do find a vaccine sooner rather than later.
On that note, you’re also the Chair of Barwon Health. Is that an interesting mix, being CEO of an AFL club and the chair of a health organisation?
Yeah, it’s an interesting mix! They’re both pretty interesting organisations to work with, although it’s very different being a CEO compared to a Chair. As a chair I’m very hands off, but as a CEO I’m very hands on. Covid-19 has been managed unbelievably well by the CEO there, Frances Diver, and her team. We did all sorts of things at Barwon Health to prepare. Australia generally has managed this really well, we’ve had very few positive cases.
You’re obviously a very busy guy, but you manage to fit a daily ocean swim into the mix down at Torquay?
I spent a fair bit of my life in Perth, and that’s where I actually started a lot of ocean swimming. I ended up doing a few Rottnest Island channel swims. I came to Geelong in 1999. I’ve lived in Anglesea, Torquay, and Ocean Grove and I always swam with either friends or on my own. I was living in Melbourne I would always go down to the Brighton Icebergers and swim down there. So most mornings I’ll swim. Now I live in Torquay and I try to get out as many mornings as I possibly can, pre-dawn and do my 2-3km depending on what time of the year it is.
You’ve got a bunch of swimming buddies in Torquay, how did that come about?
There’s always been swimmers at Cozy Corner in Torquay for generations and they start around about 7.30-8am. But we start a bit earlier, and the difference between us and them is we never wear a wetsuit. We’re ‘the skins’! The skins get out there early. I think the group started because I was out there one day and met one of the others then we started meeting up in the mornings. Two or three became four, then that became ten. I reckon now there’s about a dozen of us that get out there. It’s mostly blokes but there are a couple of girls – we’re always open to greater diversity so any females who want to come down and join us, feel free!
No wetsuits? Must be pretty cold in winter!
Yeah, it gets down to about 10 degrees in Torquay! And the colder it gets the less time you stay in the water, you just can’t stay in too long. But I actually think that coming home after swimming 2km and having a hot shower is the greatest feeling, it’s like drug therapy or something – and there’s a bit of research around that, it’s meant to be good for your immunity! I’m sticking with that. I haven’t been sick for years.
I heard someone rigs up a shower on their ute for when you all get out of the water?
Yes, that’s Colin – he’s our engineer! He rigs up three showers and we bring eskies with us and we stick it into a 90 gallon drum. We have a five minute shower after our morning swim. It’s magnificent.
You still return to Rottnest to do the race every year, right?
Yes, every year and the Torquay bunch have all completed a Rottnest Island channel swim too. Some have done it four or five times. I think we had 8 of us last year that went across and did it. That was a record number!
Ever get scared? Rottnest is Great White territory…
Not when you’ve got 2000 boats and 3000 swimmers – I don’t mind those odds! I swim the race solo. There’s normally about 300 solo swimmers, 1000 duos and about 1000 teams of four swimmers. Everyone has to have a boat and a kayaker.
Is your partner Claire as passionate about swimming as you are?
Nah, she’s not a swimmer – she’s a walker. She’s a land animal! But she puts up with my swimming, I’ve got to give her a gold medal for that. It can be a really selfish practice, particularly when I’m training for the Rottnest Swim and swimming 30km a week and I’m tired and grumpy and don’t want to go out for dinner and all that stuff but she puts up with me.
Do you do any other swimming events throughout the year?
I do all the local ones, the Danger 1000 Ocean Swim, the Anglesea RocktoRamp Ocean Swim, the Pier to Pub in Lorne. I do all those but I basically just see those as part of my training for the big one, the Rotto swim. That’s sort of my grand final each year and everything I do is training for that. My goal is always to try and complete the Rottnest Swim.
What do you love about living in Torquay?
I’ve always had a real soft spot for Torquay and Geelong, even when I was in West Australia.
Before I came to Geelong, I was the chief executive of the West Coast Eagles for 10 years. When we used to play Geelong down here I always used to arrive a day earlier, or leave a day later, so I could come down to Torquay. I always loved coming here. Just the community feel and the surf culture. I used to bring my kids here. I just love it.
Any favourite places or things to do in the area?
I love the walk right through to Bells, it’s fantastic. Cosy Corner is great too. I can take my grandkids down there and they love it. In terms of cafes and restaurants, the coffee at Larder and The Pond Café is very good, those two are my faves. I’ve taken a bit of a liking to Pearl, the pasta place, and Torquay Thai is first class. We also go to Il Matto a fair bit as well.
What would be your advice to anyone thinking of moving to the area?
If you want to live near the water, Torquay is the ideal place. There’s a calmness to living here. Once I see the water, it’s like taking a big deep breath out.
Thanks, Brian, enjoy the swimming and living on the Surf Coast…