Former world champion and defending women’s aQuellé Midmar Mile champion Sharon van Rouwendaal has hailed the famous KwaZulu-Natal race as a truly unique event – and one she would love to return to in 2025.
The Dutch woman competed in the aQuellé Midmar Mile for the first time in 2023 and powered her way to victory, finishing four seconds ahead of American Ashley Twitchell in a time of 18 minutes 40 seconds.
Speaking about the experience, Van Rouwendaal said: “I didn’t have any expectations but I knew it was one of the biggest races ever. And then when I came, there were so many people, everybody was swimming in groups.
“I really find it cool that the television [crew] were next to us with the boat and filmed everything so that people could follow it on the shore. And then the finish was actually great when you come out of the water, with so many people cheering, so it was a great experience for me.”
At just 1.6km, the aQuellé Midmar Mile was far shorter than the Dutch star usually races which is 10km – swum over numerous laps.
“The biggest thing that was different was that it was just straight from one side [of the dam] to the other and I wasn’t used to that. Also, that if you are first to 400m or to 800m or 1200m you can win some extra prize money. I think that made the race interesting because then you get these girls who try and sprint the first 400m to get some money and I think that was really nice actually, it made the race interesting to watch.”
The 30-year-old will not be defending her Midmar title in 2024, as she is focused on the World Aquatics Championships where she is hoping to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris. This weekend she will be competing in the final World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup event of the year in Portugal along with two former aQuellé Midmar Mile champions – Twitchell (a four-time winner at Midmar) and Australian Nick Sloman.
Van Rouwendaal is eager to return to the KZN dam in 2025, however.
“I want to come back for Midmar in 2025 if I’m invited, and maybe I could give some clinics because I’m starting my own business at the moment. I’m already doing some online coaching for open water swimmers and for triathletes… to improve their technique and learn how to swim open water, so maybe I could… swim it myself, and give clinics. That would be a dream for 2025.”
Van Rouwendaal has graced many international podiums, winning the world 10km title in 2022, but had some words of encouragement for those thinking of trying their hand at open water swimming for the first time at the 2024 aQuellé Midmar Mile.
“I would say to the people that if they’re doubting… this is a race to do. You can even swim it with your friends, you don’t have to do it alone. There are so many people, so many categories, even if you’re slow it doesn’t matter, there’s always a body swimming next to you.
“So I would really recommend doing this race because it’s really fun and you just get that family vibe as well when you come out of the water.”
Entries for the 2024 aQuellé Midmar Mile, which takes place from 8-11 February, are currently open.
For more information and to enter, head to www.midmarmile.co.za
Pictured here: Sharon van Rouwendaal and Ashley Twitchell
Photo credit: Action Photo SA