Optimist hits the high sea for kids

2015-08-04 06:00
Local surfer and survivor Greg Bertish takes to the sea in his small optimist. He hopes to complete a 200km trip to raise funds for children in hospital.

Local surfer and survivor Greg Bertish takes to the sea in his small optimist. He hopes to complete a 200km trip to raise funds for children in hospital.

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A person who thinks the best possible thing will happen, and hopes for it even if it’s not likely.

The description of an optimist fits perfectly with Hout Bay’s Greg Bertish.

And he’s taking to the water in a small sailing boat, called an optimist, to prove it.

In 2002, Bertish underwent open heart surgery to remove an undiagnosed tropical bacteria that had attacked his aortic heart valve. It took him a year to recover.

“All I wanted to do was to surf one small wave at Muizenberg,” he recalls.

Doctors had told Bertish that he couldn’t surf again and would not be able to do extreme sports such as windsurfing, but he took to the water and proved them wrong.

But just when Bertish thought he was invincible, the bacteria resurfaced in 2006. He underwent another surgery and spent 100 days in hospital. He now has mechanical heart valves and has to manage his lifestyle and medication carefully.

But this has not stopped him from getting back on his surfboard and inspiring others to do so.

He is a bronze medallist in the 2012 World Stand-up Paddle Championship, has competed in South African lifesaving championships and was named a Big Wave surfing nominee in 2009.

He now gives motivational talks to youngsters and raises funds for children undergoing serious surgeries at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

“It’s a matter of perspective,” he says. “When I was in hospital after my surgery I was lying there asking ‘Why me?’ and I looked to the bed next to me. I saw an old man with the same number of tubes in him as me, and I started feeling really sorry for myself. Then I looked at the next bed and I saw an infant with the same amount of tubes as me, and I started thinking how lucky I am.”

Much of his work attempts to answer questions he had as a patient, including what to expect before and after surgery and equipping the patient’s family with information.

Bertish’s love for water has now driven him to take on a new challenge to raise funds for these young patients.

He wants to complete a 200km sailing trip across False Bay, around Cape Point and to Saldanha in a boat not intended for the open sea.

He has been training to sail an optimist, a small square boat used to teach children how to sail on flat water, and hopes the adventure will raise money for the Children’s Hospital Trust.

“Every time someone says ‘You can’t do that’ I say ‘Thank you’, because it motivates me to prove them wrong,” he says.

He recently competed in a race with windsurfers and catamarans, completing the challenge in over two hours compared to the average 30 minutes.

“By the time I had finished, everyone had gone home,” he says, laughing.

After completing his open water adventure early next year, Bertish hopes to run a yearly optimist race to raise funds for the trust and create a sailing school for disadvantaged children.

Bertish is also working on a children’s book featuring the optimist as a main character – a little boat that is told what it can’t be, but proves all the other boats wrong.

He hopes that copies of the story book, which will be donated to children in hospital, will work hand-in-hand with sailing classes for children.

“Many children in the Red Cross Children’s Hospital come from impoverished areas. They don’t want to leave because they’ve never been in a place where they get three meals a day, presents on their birthdays and nurses doting on them. If I can give them something to live for, a passion, maybe that will give them the desire to get better,” he says.

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