Magic aplenty at 2014 Midmar
The 41st edition of the aQuellé Midmar Mile got underway under clear blue skies, warm temperatures and a gentle wind as swimmers of all ages, shapes and sizes tackled the opening four events of the globally renowned open-water swim event at Midmar Dam in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday.
With the racing snakes only set to take to the water on Sunday, the opening day’s events were all about the characters of the Midmar Mile that make the event such a unique swimming occasion and contribute largely to the ‘Midmar Magic’ that has captured the hearts of thousands throughout South Africa.
Race one of the weekend saw both elderly and disabled swimmers take on the Midmar challenge, together with those taking part in the Pope-Ellis Iroman, Ironwoman and Biathlon events.
Mentally impaired Craig Groenewald continued his remarkable Midmar Mile run as he claimed his 15th consecutive victory in the Disabled category of the event he holds close to his heart.
"The vibe and all the people is amazing. I enjoy open-water swimming and I am getting into it more and more. I was doing pool swimming, but I'm now trying to mix it up," said Groenewald.
"I do put quite a bit of pressure on myself. I like to win!" he added passionately.
81-year-old Mike Arbuthnot, founder of the event and Midmar Mile legend, completed his 81st crossing and continued his run as the only man to successfully have competed in every Midmar Mile since its inception.
Despite being very proud of his own achievement, Arbuthnot also had a special word for oldest female finisher Lorna Cochran who successfully completed her crossing at 90 years old.
“I’m just so very proud of Lorna, and envious,” he chuckled. “Hers really is a tremendous achievement and I hope she can do many more in years to come!”
Surrounded by her family from start to finish, Cochran shaved over eight minutes off her 2013 time and, as always, dedicated her feat to her family afterwards.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful swim for all the family,” said a strong Cochran after crossing the finish line.
“I must also congratulate all the swimmers, especially all the disabled swimmers. To me, that really is something to be admired and such an achievement. They're fantastic people!”
When asked about her plans to return in 2015 and continue her remarkable run Cochran replied, “As I always say, you can’t pick green tomatoes!”
Race organiser Wayne Riddin was full of praise for Cochran.
“If I had to organise the event and put in all the effort just for Lorna, I would!” said Riddin. “Just to see her go eight minutes faster (than last year) and what she has achieved is great!”
“It was fantastic. I couldn't believe her rhythm,” added Neil Cochran, Lorna's proud son. “She is a lot fitter this year and the reaction of the crowd was wonderful. Truly, she has become quite the princess of the Midmar Mile!"
Charity is a major element of the Midmar Mile, with numerous participants showing their support of various initiatives and campaigns via the popular 8 Mile initiative.
Former South African swimmer Melissa Williamson (neé Corfé) was one of numerous 8 Milers to return in 2014 and had a positive start to her campaign.
“So far so good,” said Williamson. “I really enjoyed last year’s 8 Miles so hopefully we can keep things going for all eight this year.”
UK-based adventurer Sean Conway, who recently became the first person to swim the length of Britain, returned to his homeland to complete his second Midmar Mile after his debut in 1996.
“I did my first one this morning in the same time as I did it in 1996, 33 or 34 minutes,” said Conway after his first of eight 2014 crossings.
“I hadn't been in the pool for three months so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. The first few hundred metres were a bit of a shock to the system, but by halfway I was fine. By the end of tomorrow, I think I will be hurting a bit though.
“The Midmar Mile is amazing! I know the weather makes things look a lot better, all slick and organised, but it truly is an extremely well organised event.
“It is so good to have everyone working together and to see things running so smoothly. It is amazing. It's a great event and I just love it!” he added.
Local radio personality Abi Ray, swimming for the RedCap Foundation, was another to get their 8 Mile initiative underway in the event’s opener on Saturday morning.
The main races of the aQuellé Midmar Mile take place on Sunday.