Life is going swimmingly

2012-06-23 00:00

AN individual needn’t do something on an elaborately grand scale to warrant being called a pioneer. It can be the most seemingly insignificant action that ignites something new and stirs a community.

Twenty-two-year-old Sibani Makhanya has witnessed this first-hand. His story is not one of heroic and selfless acts. While it is not without its element of overcoming adversity, Makhanya’s story evolved from the simplicity of doing the thing that made him happiest.

He recalls the first time he ever tried to swim. A friend accompanied him to kwaMashu’s public swimming pool on a seemingly ordinary after-school afternoon. He was 13.

“I jumped in and I nearly drowned,” he recalls. “The lifeguard was in the bathroom and I tried to keep myself above the water. Everyone was laughing and my friend had to help me.”

That frightful experience kept Makhanya away from the pool for the rest of the week, but it wouldn’t be long before his friend, Kabelo, convinced him into giving it another go.

“Kabelo taught me how to do the breast stroke and then I was in the pool every day after school.”

Fortunately, the swimming pool was close to Makhanya’s house.

Days turned into months and, naturally, Makhanya began to develop his skills in the water. So much so that one of the lifeguards at the pool asked him to join the small swimming club that congregated there daily.

By the time he arrived at KwaMashu High School, Makhanya was already an accomplished swimmer. But with no swimming pool at the school, nor any pupils with a passion for the sport, he was forced to continue nurturing his new-found love affair at the public pool.

His involvement in the club allowed him to swim his first Midmar Mile in 2005 and he has competed every year since then. In 2007 he swam his fastest time — a 22-minuter that left him among the fastest group of swimmers that year.

“The 2007 swim was tough, I had trained really hard that year,” he remembers. “It has been difficult to swim that time again.”

Back in kwaMashu, one of the lifeguards at the pool suggested to Makhanya, who was in Grade 11 at the time, that he do a lifeguard course.

“I passed the test, passed the swimming course and then I was made a lifeguard at Suncoast Pirates beach in Durban.”

That achievement caught the eye of an SABC 2 television show that visited the beach and did an interview with Makhanya that aired throughout the country.

In an instant, Makhanya and swimming became the talk of KwaMashu High.

“That kind of made me famous,” he laughs. “All of a sudden all of the kids at the school wanted to know how they could get involved in swimming and how I could help them.”

From this moment on, Makhanya was accompanied by a group of around 10 of his peers every time he went for his daily work-out at the pool. They would look to Makhanya for help and techniques to make them more comfortable in the pool.

“Some of them are still swimming today,” he says with a glint of nostalgia in his eyes.

But Makhanya’s peers were not the only ones who caught his television interview. After seeing the impact Makhanya had on other pupils at KwaMashu High, the school decided it was time to accommodate swimming as an after-school activity.

Makhanya, at that stage, was the only one ready to take on other schools in the Durban area, and became the first pupil in KwaMashu High’s history to represent the school at swimming.

“I was the only member of the squad … and I was the captain,” he jokes.

Makhanya then began travelling to meets in and around Durban as KwaMashu High’s only representative.

In the same year, he came across Pinetown’s Seagulls swimming club, where current Olympic coach Graham Hill was very active. Makhanya moved on from the kwaMashu pool where it all started, and began travelling daily to Pinetown after school where he would train with Hill and other strong swimmers.

When he finished his matric, he began coaching at Seagulls — U10s and U11s. After spending a little over two years there, he came into contact with another major name in South African swimming coaching — Wayne Riddin.

Riddin immediately admired Makhanya’s talent and passion and lured the young coach away from Pinetown and into a new coaching role at Seals in Pietermaritzburg.

“Wayne has played a really good role in my life. He has taught me how to be fair.”

Makhanya now has his sights set on a future in coaching, and while he still works hard at his competitive swimming, it has taken a back seat.

He is a part of the “8 Mile Club” — a group of 50 swimmers who each year swim all eight of the weekend’s Midmar Mile categories in an effort to raise money for charity. This year was his first time joining the 8 milers, but he has already committed to being a part of next year’s group in what will be the 10th anniversary of the 8 Mile Club.

Mervyn Bremner, head of the 8 Mile Club, says that Makhanya is extremely popular among the kids that he coaches — around 25 of them between the ages of eight and 12.

“I just really want to help them. I’m always available if they need any­thing,” explains Makhanya. “Wayne [Riddin] taught me that we need to make swimming fun for them. I respect them and they respect the way I teach them.”

Makhanya may have come a long way from the young teenager who nearly drowned in that kwaMashu swimming pool all those years ago, but he has no plans to stop moving forward now.

“I don’t see myself ever leaving swimming. It is in my blood and I won’t be able to survive without it.”

And future plans? Well, they are indicative of the man’s passion.

“I have a 10-year plan to stay at this club, get my coaching courses done and keep learning. There is a lot of talent here,” he says. “After that, my dream is to one day be the Olympic coach for our swimmers.”

• sport

@witness.co.za

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