Even a global pandemic won’t stop Mike Arbuthnot from making his annual trip across Midmar Dam. The now 88-year-old is one of the founding members of the aQuellé Midmar Mile and has participated in all 47 editions of the famous race.
This year the race may look very different – with only the elite races and the 8 and 16-mile charity events taking place with the other swimmers participating in a virtual race – but the beloved Buthie, as he’s known, is determined he’s going to swim in the virtual event.
“World War 2 began in 1939 and ended in 1945 when I was 13 years old. My formative years were about austerity, loss and a global crisis,” explained Arbuthnot, who lost his mother at the age of six. “I joined Seals Swimming Club when I was six years old and swimming has framed my whole life. Sport helps the mind, body and soul. Today, in my sunset years, we are confronted with a pandemic that has restricted, reduced and caused the world to recoil. While we await the vaccine and/or herd immunity, people are finding positivity and a way forward.”
That way forward for Arbuthnot was to keep training whenever and wherever he could, but, like for so many swimmers, it hasn’t been easy.
“Training has been difficult this year as the swimming pool was closed for many months. With lockdown, basic fitness was hard to maintain. I walked around my garden 50 times every morning to keep active.
“Since we moved to level 3, I have been able to train but my current fitness level would not usually be considered sufficient to do Midmar Mile. However, many lives have been lost, many livelihoods compromised, and I felt that in light of the global challenge and the heartache and difficulties endured by so many, I had to swim Midmar Mile in honour of that courage.”
Arbuthnot has overcome several challenges of his own in the past, including colon cancer, skin cancer a brain aneurysm and a stroke, but he’s just kept going. His daughter Tracy explained that her father will once again be accompanied across the dam by Tony Bath.
“Tony is swimming with Dad. He's had his own health issues so it's a triumph that he is swimming too,” she said.
“I'm sad to miss swimming this year myself and I'm so proud of Wayne [Riddin] and all his team that they have had the fortitude and determination to ensure the event happens, even in a different form. It's just something nice to look forward to.”
Buthie himself also expressed gratitude that he will be given the chance to swim in the virtual event.
“Sport has always given people something to strive for, something to hope for and brings people together. This year, 2021, more than ever before, this is much needed.
“I will do my best to make the event proud and if I am successful, I will most certainly celebrate with a beer or two.”
Photo credit: Action Photo SA