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Community makes a splash at Midmar Mile and beyond



Had you been a Midmar Mile observer in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, last weekend, you may have noticed one man swimming the one-mile (1.6km) distance three times, each time with a different child.

That would have been Johannesburg businessman and father of three, Craig Nerwich, who swam the mile with each of his children separately.

“I swam with my son Zach, my daughter Noa, and my 10-year-old son Jamie, who swam for his first time. It was special to be able to do that with all three of them separately,” says Nerwich.

Having swum from Robben Island to Big Bay about eight times, Nerwich says he swims a lot and his children have grown up with swimming.

Another Joburg businessman, Terry Heller, was one of the first people to swim the 25.7km (16-mile) distance in one day, on 10 February.

Not only did Heller place third out of the 15 swimmers who swam that distance, he also raised R20 000 for Happy Bundles, a charity for children with cancer.

People usually swim the 16-mile Midmar over two days. “In terms of mileage, not many swims are that far,” says Heller. “It took me seven hours to do the 25.7km. I’ve put in probably two hours during the week and three hours on the weekend in training, which I’ve been doing since October last year.”

Heller is no stranger to winning water events. “Besides the Midmar, I did two pool events last year,” he says. “I broke the 800m South African record and the 400m Gauteng record.”

He also has his name on the Midmar trophy as the winner of the 2016, 2017, and 2018 events.

While swimming Midmar was a personal feat for Hermanus guest house-owner Lisa Kirsch, she did it to raise money for charity, while others like Rabbi Ilan Raanan and King David High School Linksfield (KDHSL) Grade 11 pupil David Krost swam in the name of someone who has or had a battle with ill-health. Krost and Raanan were a part of the team from KDHSL. This school sent its biggest team ever, which included 30 pupils.

For the second consecutive year, cancer survivor Kirsch swam Midmar (the eight-mile distance) to raise about R12 000 for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), a charity close to her heart. “The conditions were great. It was a beautiful day with very little wind, which always helps. It’s a privilege to swim the eight-mile because you don’t have thousands of people alongside you.”

In contrast to her experience of swimming in the freezing water between Robben Island and Big Bay, “the temperature is perfect in the Midmar swim. It’s even a little too warm for long-distance swimming”.

Samantha Michau, the head of swimming at KDHSL, swam the Midmar Mile and helped organise the participation of 30 of the school’s students in the event. “It was a team effort along with the school’s head of sport, Miss Kirsty Forssman and Rabbi Ilan Raanan, the head of the Jewish Studies department,” says Michau, who previously participated in the Sun City swims and the Platinum Mile. “Kirsty’s leadership and professionalism helped us run a smooth and effortless tour. She did everything from the accommodation to the buses.” They stayed in a guesthouse adjacent to Chabad of the North Coast in Umhlanga.

“There’s so much more to the weekend than just the swim,” says Grade 12 student Zak Rachelson.

In the shul, the school’s senior boys led the service with, Rabbi Raanan says, “the most incredible gees [spirit]”. The shul’s rabbi, Shlomo Wainer, “loved it”, says Michau.

Rachelson led what his fellow matric, Judah Marx, dubs “the most incredible Kabbalat Shabbat”.

“We were all singing with the Umhlanga community, praying for a good swim, and for Isaac Moritz, a student who got injured in the sea in Cape Town,” says Krost, who swam the mile with Moritz’s name written all over his body. On Saturday, after shul, they sang Hebrew songs. “At night, we did Havdalah, which was inspirational,” says Krost.

The senior girls did candle lighting together, says Michau. “We arrived on Friday. The kids went to the beach for about two hours. We went for a lovely walk in the afternoon down the Boulevard. Our Midmar team has a big family bond. They treat each other like brother and sister.”

The theme of the school’s tour this year was “Friends”. “We wanted to reiterate to our swimmers that we’re always going to be there for one another no matter what life throws at us,” Michau says.

Grade 10 student Taine Lunt says, “We went down as a team and spent a lot of time with each other building up an amazing spirit. For me, the most fun was sharing the swim with all my schoolmates and encouraging them. The weather was perfect. The swim was longer than I thought as the dam was more than 100% full.

“It was my eighth Midmar and the best conditions I had ever swum in, with very calm water,” says Rachelson. Usually, the swimmers with the fastest qualifying time go first. This year, it was a rolling start, meaning participants could start whenever they wanted to. Rachelson and Marx say this made the start much calmer as they weren’t pushed around by other swimmers.

Their school encourages its students to attend training at least three times a week to ensure they have a basic fitness level to complete the swim. “We also have a WhatsApp group that allows the students to bond a little beforehand,” says Michau. “However, the true bonding experience comes in the Midmar Shabbat.

“It’s an incredible weekend,” says Raanan. “Many of the students will start as strangers. In the end, they are literally the best of friends. An amazing vibe is created.”

Raanan swam in the name of his late cousin, Kim. “I grew up in Durban. Every once in a while, we would go to Midmar with family and spend some time with our cousin Kim. She passed away last year so I decided to dedicate my swim in her honour.”

His training for this year’s event had a few untimely interruptions – such as his wife having COVID-19, and him pulling a muscle in his ribs while planting a tree on Tu B’Shvat.

Michau, on the other hand, barely did any training. She decided to swim this year’s Midmar Mile at the last minute. One of the pupils she had convinced to tackle the swim used her own “pep talk” to persuade her to do it.

“Every person comes together for the same cause, to swim across a dam,” says Marx. “Through our differences, we found a commonality which created a bond that will last a lifetime.”

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