While over 13,000 swimmers will be making their way across Midmar Dam this weekend, just eight will attempt to complete the most gruelling challenge available at the aQuellé Midmar Mile.
Those are the intrepid athletes who will be gunning to become part of the 16-Mile Club. The group will swim each of the eight scheduled events spread over the two days of 8-9 February. But then, unlike the Eight-mile Club, they’ll swim back to the start of the next race each time to bring their total at the end of the weekend to an impressive 16 miles.
One of the gallant participants is former international competitor Gary Albertyn, who’s a current world Masters champion in open water swimming. This isn’t the first time he’s attempted the challenge either – it’s his fifth.
“Having done this four times before, I know more or less what to expect, although each year is different,” explained the Pretoria-based swimmer. “Each day, the first two or maybe three miles are fairly easy, then the next few are quite tough, more mentally than physically, but then when you get to number six it gets a bit easier because you know there are only two or three left to go.
“The challenge of being able to complete all 16 miles as well as the fact that we are raising money for a really great cause keeps me going.”
The eight swimmers taking part have been raising funds for the Duzi Umngeni Conservation trust (DUCT) – the organisation whose mission is to champion the environmental health of the uMngeni and uMsunduzi Rivers.
“DUCT play an important role in the area that extends to such a large part of the country. Ensuring that our rivers and dams are clean and free from pollution is a critically important function,” said Albertyn.
“With the water restrictions still in place in many parts of South Africa and the ongoing threat of contaminated water, DUCT need our support more than ever before.”
Looking to raise as much as possible, Albertyn has been hard at work in training.
“It involves training six times a week (Monday to Saturday), and trying to do a few open water races over weekends. My aim is to get between 35km and 40km done each week.”
Despite only swimming his first aQuellé Midmar Mile in 2012. By the end of this weekend, he’ll have notched up a remarkable total of over 100 miles in just nine years.
“Having swum competitively for many years, my first Midmar was only in 2012. I swam three of the races. I then participated in the eight-mile challenge for three years (for Pink Drive), and then the 16-mile challenge each year since then.
“My first 16-mile challenge ended up being 17 miles, myself and Calvin Steyn did an extra mile. This will be my ninth event, and if I finish all 16, I will have swum 108 miles over the nine years.”
From next year, Albertyn is hoping his entire family will be taking on the formidable challenge with him.
“My whole family is involved. My wife Megan, daughter Kaitlyn and son Connor are all doing the eight-mile challenge for Pink Drive. We are hoping to make history in 2021 and be the first family to be part of the 16-Mile Club.”
As for what brings him back each year, Albertyn added: “Midmar is a truly unique event in every way. Recognised in 2009 as the world's largest open water swimming event, it has the most incredible atmosphere and vibe from the moment you arrive in Pietermaritzburg.
“For us as a family, it is one of our favourite weekends of the year. We have made so many friends at Midmar and seen everything from a marriage proposal to tears of happiness and celebrations. We have witnessed such courage and determination that has been incredibly inspiring.
“There is also so much going on including music, yummy food stalls as well as lots of shopping. The generosity of all the sponsors involved in the event, particularly aQuellé, add to the magic of the weekend. It is truly a unique event and a showcase of the incredible hard work of the Midmar organisers, led so ably by Wayne Riddin,” he concluded.
The eight swimmers taking on the 16-Mile challenge are: Gary Albertyn, Ross Cairns, Colin Gluch, Stephen Hunt, Sam Kruger, Chris Stapley, Marius van Reenen, and Reino von Wielligh.
Pictured above Gary Albertyn, photo credit Jetline Action Photos.