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Going the extra mile for Midmar, and into the history books

by ZwemZa on February 9th, 2019

Founder of the Midmar Mile, Mike Arbuthnot, took to the water for the 46th time. (IOL)

It’s a challenge for everyone who dives into the water this weekend for the 2019 aQuellé Midmar Mile, but for Mike Arbuthnot, Rachael Rodd and Chad Gifford, the swim will be a special one.

Going into the history books, 86-year-old Arbuthnot, the founder of the Midmar Mile, will be the oldest swimmer in the race and will be competing for the 46th time. Ballito’s Rodd, at 6 years old, will be the youngest swimmer. Gifford, who lost his lower limbs in a car accident at a young age, will give the daunting 16 Mile race a shot after having gained his permanent number for the 8 Mile event.

Speaking to the Independent on Saturday this week, Gifford, a swimming coach in Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, said the 16 Miler would be tough.

“I swim every day, normally between three and five kilometres, and have been training since last June, so I have built up slowly and am comfortable with my pace for this swim. I’ll push myself. I did the 8 Mile with no legs five times, so I think it’s possible. I love the endurance stuff,” he said, adding that he could well be the first person with no legs to take part in the 16 Mile event.

And competing does come with difficulties. Gifford remembered jumping into the water for his very first Midmar Mile race: “People swam right into my butt. For my first one I was physically fit, but people were swimming over me. I got dunked, I had to hold my breath and I spent a bit of time under the water looking at the plant life. At that time, I thought, ‘I am not coming back to this’, but then I got through it and it felt so cool, I came back.”

Having completed the 8 Mile five times, double amputee Chad Gifford, a swimming coach based in Port Shepstone on the KZN South Coast, will attempt the 16 Miler. (Supplied)

He has since taken part in the race 10 times – five of those being the 8 Mile event – getting his permanent number last year.

Meanwhile, the founder of the legendary event, Arbuthnot will swim with his grandchildren, Victoria Bux, 16, and Liam Hackland, 10. Recalling his first swim 46 years ago, Arbuthnot, who lives in Howick, said this week: “It started as a fun outing, when a group of boys swam out to the raft and back. Back then I used to swim the Buffalo Mile in East London on New Year’s Day with my other swimming club members. But petrol was restricted, with stations closed on the weekend, so that meant we had to spend two weeks in East London. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we start our own little swim?”

At first they approached Durban’s port captain with the idea of organising a swim from Salisbury Island (in the Port of Durban) to the beach. “The port captain said, ‘This is a commercial port, we can’t have people splashing about here’, so that’s when we had the idea to have the race at Midmar.

“It was a low key, local event for local swimmers and a picnic outing for families. I’m amazed how it’s grown,” said Arbuthnot.

The youngest competitor this year is 6-year-old Rachael Rodd, who said she had been eating a lot of carrots, which will help. (Supplied)

Rodd, the youngest swimmer at this year’s event, told the Independent on Saturday she was excited about the big swim. When asked if she had been training ahead of the event, she said: “Yes, I’ve been practising since I was 3. I can swim very fast and I can run fast too. I might get a little tired, but I don’t think I’ll get a stitch.”

She added that she had eaten a lot of carrots, which would be of enormous help.

Her mother, Dominique Donner-Rodd, who is a former South African triathlete and is a three-time winner of the aQuellé Midmar Mile in her age group, said she would swim alongside Rachael.

Donner-Rodd, who is the swim coach for North Coast Dolphins Club, will also be doing the 8 Mile Challenge, and has been raising funds for the Friends of Swimmers Trust.

The 46th aQuellé Midmar Mile, the world’s largest open-water swimming event, takes place today and tomorrow.

The weekend will see eight events, four today and four tomorrow.

Tanya Waterworth | Independent on Sunday

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