May 16 2017
Having spent a great deal of my childhood at swimming galas, water polo matches and generally messing about in the sea, I have always been comfortable in water, particularly in open water. The Freedom Swim, otherwise known as the Robben Island Swim, had always been an appealing challenge for me and I decided that this year I was finally going to tick the “Everest of all open water swims” off my bucket list.
As with most things I attempt, I started with grand ideas of how much training I was going to do. Needless to say, between 21st season and varsity demands, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Despite wavering motivation, I generally managed to get in three swims per week – two with My Training Day and one longer solo session during which I slowly built up distance. When comments about my chlorine-infused body odour and the thought of swimming more laps in the pool were enough to make me go crazy, I moved my sessions to the sea. Between the 1SOMS swims, Around the Rocks, Shipwrecked and other qualifying swims in the Freedom Swim series, I had countless opportunities to acclimatise to cold water. .
A month before the event, I decided that I did not simply want to do the swim for the fun of it. Mental Health is a cause quite close to my heart so I thought it fitting to use this “Freedom” swim to raise money for the Cape Mental Health Society. I ultimately raised R8 500, as well as, I’d like to think, raise the awareness of my unsuspecting Facebook friends.
Finally, the day arrived; my boatman, Walter Smith, (or Bollie) and my very anxious dad set off from Oceania Power Boat Club as I took the ferry to Robben Island. The swim kicked off from the harbour wall, with the skins swimmers (non-wetsuit swimmers) starting first, followed by the wetsuit swimmers. Once outside the harbour, I linked up with my boat and we were off. The first 5 km were absolutely magical. With the view of Table Mountain to my right, cheers from my support crew on my left and the largest jellyfish I have ever seen beneath me, time passed quickly and I forgot about the cold (although, it must be said, that my coral wetsuit and adrenaline definitely take some of the credit). Unfortunately, the race was officially called off at this point due to the water temperature dipping below 10 degrees. There was also a dangerously large swell and a very strong current. Race officials started pulling people out of the water and taking them back to shore. I, however, was completely oblivious to all this as my support crew was determined that I was strong enough to carry on, based on my coherent speech, sense of humour, swimming form and distance covered. Boatman Bollie had managed to steer a far straighter course than many other boatmen and I was only about 2 km from the finish at the final call. Without my realising it, my support team negotiated with the officials to allow me to continue, on the condition that they take full responsibility for my safety.
The last 2 km were an absolute slog. Fighting the current had tired me out. Distance in the ocean seemed endless, as there were no markers or buoys to indicate how far I’d swum, or if I’d even moved at all! It took a whole lot of grit and, of course, the thought of my friends and family waiting for me at Blouberg to get me safely to shore. I finished with a time of 3.5 hours - longer than expected but considering the conditions and the fact that I swam an extra kilometre due to the current, I am just relieved to have finished!
Looking back, I can definitely say it was a worthwhile and mostly enjoyable experience and I would encourage anyone considering it, to take the plunge. I wasn’t used to eating and drinking on the swim and only had one energy gel and 500 ml water – so that is definitely something to consider when training for these events. Big thanks go out to my friends and family for their never-ending support as well as to the coaches at My Training Day for providing such killer swim sets!