Madswimmers set their sights high

Sharks, cold water and the little matter of a pre-swim half marathon didn’t put off a group of Madswimmers from completing the 14.5km crossing of Knysna Lagoon on Saturday 11 July.

Madswimmer is a South African charity that has raised more than $300,000 for various charitable causes by undertaking daring open water swims. They have successfully completed all six recognised intercontinental swims, crossed the 38 km Lake Tanganyika, 18 km Sterkfontein Dam and the highest body of water on Mount Kenya.
The Knysna Lagoon swim was part of their training for their ultimate challenge this year: swimming in the highest lake in the world in December. Mount Ojos del Salado in Chile is 6,400m above sea level. As well as having to cope with the extreme altitude, the swimmers will also have to be able to handle the cold – it is likely that chainsaws will be needed to cut through the ice-covered lake in winter.
Despite it being National Shark Week, 30 swimmers took part in the Knysna Lagoon swim. Shark pods, motor boats and kayakers accompanied the solo and relay swimmers, who were raising funds for the Sinethemba Youth Development Centre. Water temperature was between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius. Seven swimmers also took it upon themselves to compete in the Knysna half marathon as a warm up for the swim.

Of the six people who completed the solo swim, Jean Craven (founder of Madswimmer) was the only one to also complete the half marathon. “It was quite a hard race, a lot of the path more trail running through a jungle, but the spectacular scenery did ease the pain,” says Craven. “At about 8km to go I actually saw the Red Bridge where we were going to swim the afternoon. At that moment it crossed my mind that just maybe I was a little ambitious!”

Craven had three hours’ recovery after finishing the run before he had to get in the water. “I remember standing before the swim and thinking: ‘Jeepers – I have never felt this tired before a swim, this is going to be hard!’. There were a few good swimmers and the pace was fast. I got tremendous cramps in my calves and thighs up to the half way mark. Fortunately this do not stop my speed as I hardly kick in long distance swimming – but it was painful. The swim was hard, we had a lot of chop due to the wind picking up. The water was chilly but the tide in our favour. I did not wear a wetsuit as some of the hard core swimmers frown on wetsuits! And as the founder of Madswimmer, I had to act the part!”
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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.