Midmar’s 8 Mile club

2013-02-09 00:00

THERE are a bunch of elite swimmers every year at the Midmar Mile who “do it all” for charity.

The Mile itself is a challenge, but to spend the weekend completing eight miles, swimming in every event, takes guts, stamina and a steely resolve to help those in the community who need it most.

Membership of the 8 Mile Club is limited to 50 swimmers, men and women aged from 16 to 60. They wear gold caps and their workload is spread over the whole weekend, swimming four miles on Saturday and repeating the process on Sunday.

First to take on the full house of miles was Stan Kozlowski, who achieved the milestone in 2001 when raising funds for the Wildlands Conservation Trust. To date, he has finished 84 miles. In 2004, the 8 Mile Club was formalised by Mervyn Bremner and Kozlowski, Bremner having completed 102 miles through the years.

Said Kozlowski: “It’s great to see how the club has grown from a handful of diehard swimmers to the 50 we have today, all committed to raising funds for worthwhile and important charities. People always express interest and we have to turn people away because of the 50-member restriction. It’s pleasing there are many youngsters who want to be involved as this ensures the continuity of the club.”

Bremner is a man on a mission. “It’s hard work but it’s all worthwhile in the end. Mentally, the driving force for all of us is that we are not wasting our time or doing the challenge to prove a point or gain recognition. We quietly go about our business and what keeps us going is knowing our efforts bring in substantial amounts of money to assist the less fortunate in our world.

“Training varies for each swimmer, but I get down to serious work about five months before the race. Some of us are more suited to swimming than others, but I am one of those who has to put in the miles. Once I start training, I knock off about 1 500 metres daily, six days a week. As the race draws near, I hit Midmar at the weekend and swim another two miles. In between all this, I keep in shape competing in various open-water events,” he said.

There is a back-up team on shore, ensuring the hardy swimmers are kept in prime shape for their conquest. Said Bremner: “We have a strong team attending to all our needs throughout the weekend. This includes food and drink between each race and a massage team, which is a vital cog in the whole process. These folks keep the oil in our engines, massaging our shoulders and upper arms between each race, restoring our waning strength.”

Membership of the club was limited to 50 purely for logistical reasons, as Bremner explains. “We start in front of every batch and therefore cannot have too many swimmers blocking and interfering with the leading contenders. After every race, we jump on to speedboats to return to the start for the next race and we cannot disrupt proceedings with a mass of swimmers all waiting for the same thing.”

Having knocked off so many miles, Bremner has some personal highlights. “Terrence Parkin [the Zimbabwean-born deaf swimmer who won silver at the 2000 Olympics] actually won six of the eight events one year, and the following year, instead of catching a boat back to the start, swam back, thereby completing 16 miles for the weekend. Two years ago, Chad Gifford, who lost both legs in a car accident, swam and finished all eight miles and he returns this year, as does Sibani Makhanya, the first black swimmer to achieve the feat.

“Gifford is amazing. When he first took on the challenge, I wondered how he would get on and, to my surprise, he beat me in most of the swims. This time around, he has sent an e-mail to our club secretary, stating that if he can swim the challenge again, he will at least let me beat him in one race. That is an incredible spirit.”

On the charity front, the club has been phenomenal. One of the criteria for selection is that a swimmer commits to raising R10 000. “It’s all about charity and in the past nine years, we have raised more than R5  million. The past two years, we have gone just over a million and this time around, we are aiming for R1,5 million,” said Bremner.

Charities supported by the club include the Cancer Association of South Africa, CHOC, iThemba Lethu (children whose futures are threatened by HIV and Aids), KZN Cystic Fibrosis, Little Eden (homes for mentally disabled children and adults), Pevensey Place for cerebral palsy, SA Guide Dogs, SPCA, Thandani Children’s Foundation, The Learn Project and Village Safe Haven.

The swimmers in the gold caps have become a vital part of the Midmar Mile and are an important chapter in the history of the race.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that they wear gold caps, because what they are achieving is worth its weight in gold. Although they do not win anything and quietly line up at the start of every race as unsung heroes, they are the true winners, people with gold in their hearts, striving to build a better South Africa.

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