Another view of Midmar

2009-02-16 00:00

On Saturday, February 8, I rose at some pre-dawn hour, wriggled into a costume, probably designed by Houdini, and was chauffeured up to Midmar, only to pay a substantial entrance fee, get into some chilly water, splash myself across 1 627,9 metres of choppy water and repeat the whole process the next day.

The thing is it was all voluntary. I even paid an entry fee somewhere in distant November for this experience. I bought new goggles when mine went missing and in the interests of preserving the modesty of the general public, invested in a new costume. And I then submitted to having my number written in bold koki down my arm and thigh. All this, and crowds too? What was I doing among 13 500 people?

Now, why would I be crazy enough to swim Midmar once, let alone twice? My niece was swimming in the disabled race and chose me as her designated swimmer, bodyguard, chaperone and, I was to discover, conversation partner. I was chuffed to be asked and put in extra hours of swimming, unsure of what was actually required of me. Concerned about my puny, aging arm muscles, I even dared the weight section at gym and lifted a grand total of three kilograms a couple of times a week.

I have done Midmar 10 times before and never once has it occurred to me to have a conversation across the water. Apparently, there is more than one way to get across the dam. We discussed and compared the English and American pronunciation of buoys. I was asked questions which required answers. I replied, trying to avoid mouthfuls of choppy water. There is not an ounce of competitive spirit in my niece and if by chance our arms and legs brushed against each other, belly-aching giggles caused her to tread water. We had time to smile at the lifeguards and thank them for their time and care. Two women we were, with a dream accomplished by a whole team of amazing workers and a vision of wondrous breadth.

My own swim on Sunday was very different. The lifeguards, I am sorry to say, went unnoticed and the scenery simply passed me by. It was a solitary journey across the dam and that was good too. I was pleased with my time, the sun shone even though my boss had repeatedly predicted rain, wind and falling temperatures. The crowd was festive and there was a general atmosphere of celebration and accomplishment.

A few days have passed. I have scrubbed the numbers off my arm and legs with soap and a scrubbing brush. My feet are reasonably clean although for some time my heels will tell tales of Midmar mud. My costume lies discarded in my cupboard and my medal is packed away. But my mind has not yet packed away the memories from the swim and I hope it never will.

What did I take from the weekend? My personal pleasure at knocking two minutes off my time was great and I will be back next year. While waiting in the water at the start of event one I was surrounded by many other swimmers. The eight milers and iron men and women are some of the fittest and finest in our country. As for the disabled, each had his or her own story. They are living a life they didn’t request or sign up for, with courage, determination and perseverance. I wondered if I would have had the courage to pitch if life had been different for me? Would I have the determination to value myself, define myself, according to what I am able to do, rather than what I am not able to do?

And so I salute Neville and Adri and Tadgh and Shireen and Sian and everyone. Thank you for showing me the glory of living through pain to accomplish a dream. Thank you for stirring my imagination and opening my life to endless possibilities. I admire your courage and perseverance, your positive reaching out to conquer life and live it to the full.

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