Para swimmers excel as Pengelly notches up a 51st Midmar Mile finish

aquatics10 February 2024 15:30
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Aliani Ferreira

Thousands of swimmers were greeted by some tricky conditions on the first day of racing at the aQuellé Midmar Mile in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday.

They nevertheless braved the choppy water to make their way across the dam with Nathan Hendricks and Alani Ferreira emerging as the men’s and women’s winners in the visually impaired category.

Hendricks reached the finish in a time of 24 minutes 20 seconds along with his guide swimmer Reece Zowitzky while Ferreira completed her swim in 26:30 with guide Mikaela Goelst.

“That was the roughest Midmar I’ve ever done. The waves were literally like the ocean so my guide had a really tough job but she really did her best even in the rough conditions and I enjoyed it anyway. I love a challenge,” said two-time Paralympian Ferreira afterwards.

Someone who knows all about varying conditions, having completed every Midmar Mile since 1974, meaning he’s completed all 51 editions of the famous race, is Mike Pengelly, who admitted afterwards: “I swallowed a bit of water along the way. I breathe to the right and the waves were coming that way but I’ve done a lot of surf swimming so it wasn’t too bad.

“51 now, I can’t believe it. I just got into a nice steady rhythm and kept the wheels turning and here we are. It was a bit bumpy but it was fine, I enjoyed it.”

As for what brings him back each year, Pengelly added: “It’s just become a way of life really but I will say I’ve been inspired by Buthie [Midmar Mile founder Mike Arbuthnot who passed away in 2023]. The last few years I don’t know how he kept going, but he was an incredible inspiration. In his late 80s he was still doing this event so I’ll keep the wheels turning as long as I can.”

Meanwhile, thrilled to have finished her second aQuellé Midmar Mile was Luyanda Shandu. The 15-year-old from Pietermaritzburg is one of the Chad le Clos Foundation development swimmers from Seals Swimming Club.

“On the first 400m it was pretty rough and I think after the first two 400m points, the current just got heavier and heavier,” she said. “The water was pushing me and I tried to kick and it wasn’t working but we managed.”

Speaking about having former Olympic champion Le Clos working with her group of swimmers at the end of last year, Shandu added. “It was pretty amazing getting a point of view from someone who has experienced everything you want to do.”

Later in the morning, the Albertyns from Pretoria claimed the family team title with dad Gary powering to an impressive time of 22 minutes 36 (after swimming 20 miles in the Charity Challenge on Thursday and Friday), son Connor, fresh from representing South Africa at the World Championships in Doha, finishing in 20:08, daughter Kaitlyn finishing in 26:56 and mom Megan in 30:00.

“It was really rough, the waves were quite big but the water is nice and warm, probably perfect for racing,” said Connor. “But I’ve never swum a Midmar with waves like this. I was pushing the time quite a bit just in case one of the others struggled a bit, but overall it was quite good and I’m chuffed we won.”

Speaking about taking on Sunday’s elite race, the 19-year-old added: “I’m excited for it. I just hope the waves go down a bit for a nice flat race tomorrow. I’m excited to race back here in South Africa again. World Championships was a great experience, I learnt a lot from that so I’m hoping to apply some of that tomorrow.”

The biggest cheer of the day on Saturday was reserved for the incredible Ubo Munian who has a rare form of motor neuron disease combined with muscular dystrophy, and took 3 hours 26 minutes and 24 seconds to complete his mile swim with the help of Joanna van der Merwe.

“This is my sixth Midmar from the wheelchair,” said the Johannesburg swimmer. “This has been my toughest Midmar to date but I will be back next year.”

Waiting on the edge of the dam with his wheelchair, Munian’s wife, Bash, was brought to tears as her husband crossed the finish line. “I’m exceptionally proud of him,” she said. He wakes up every morning, he’s disciplined, he gives everything he’s got. I’m in tears just thinking about how hard he fights, how hard he works. He’s an absolute inspiration.”