Natalie du Toit: Breaks cold-water swim’s 22-year-old record — proving that nothing can limit her freedom

2009-04-27 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Paralympics champion Natalie du Toit overcame a three-and-a-half-hour delayed start, sea temperatures of 13°C and a tough field of local and international swimmers to win the eighth annual Cadiz Vista Nova Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand on Sunday afternoon.

In so doing, Du Toit broke the women’s record for the fastest swim between the island and Blouberg’s Big Bay, a distance of 7,5 km characterised by cold water, strong currents and other challenges thrown up by the elements.

Over 270 swimmers (solos and relay swimmers) entered the race with about 250 finally taking to the water on Sunday afternoon.

The event raises funds for the Vista Nova School for children with special needs.

It is widely regarded as one of the most extreme sea swim races in the world due to the cold water, which can lead to hypothermia, and the shark-infested waters.

It was initially scheduled for Saturday, but rain, wind and adverse sea conditions led to a postponement. On Sunday, the 10 am start was delayed when heavy fog caused safety concerns.

The race finally got under way at about 1.40 pm when the fog lifted and swimmers were able to see the route clearly.

Du Toit and 22-year-old open water swimming sensation Tyron Venter immediately set the pace.

Du Toit, whose left leg was amputated below the knee in 2001, narrowly won in a time of one hour, 35 minutes and 45 seconds, less than a minute in front of Venter.

Du Toit broke the record for the fastest woman to have completed the route, which had stood for 22 years.

She said afterwards that conditions were ideal and that delighted as she was to have won, she felt privileged to have participated in an event that raised funds for the children of Vista Nova School.

Venter, who has won the men’s division for three years in a row, said he enjoyed the swim and looked forward to next year’s event, which organisers say will draw a field of close to 400 local and international extreme swimmers.

Solo swimmers participate in only a swimming cap and costume while some relay divisions allow for wetsuits.

Four development relay teams participated and a team from Paul Roos Gymnasium won the schools’ relay competition.

The youngest swimmer was 15-year-old Robert Mason, who finished the race in one hour, 50 minutes and six seconds.

Veteran long-distance swimmer Theo Yach completed a record 54th Robben Island channel crossing.

The event sponsor is Cadiz Financial Strategy Group, while OTC Pharma, which produces multi-nutrient Marcus Rohrer Spirulina, was the sub-sponsor.

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