Two different challenges for local open water swimmers

Shaun Diamond celebrates his amazing achievement. Photo credit: Karman de Lange

The Robben Island to Blouberg crossing is an ideal challenge for many swimmers, and on 18 April, Shaun Borstrock and Shaun Diamond were two of a group of twelve taking on this epic swim. While the route was the same for both men, their challenges were different.

Borstrock challenged himself to raise funds for CSO Cape Town. “The swim is just three or so hours of my life compared to many hours that the CSO volunteers give to be there for the community, and I have made it my mission to help create awareness for these selfless people by pushing myself to the limits,” he explained on his BackaBuddy page, where supporters have donated over R50 000 to his campaign to date.

Diamond had a different challenge altogether. He says “I was introduced to Triathlon by Brandon Maggen, some time back. I was an avid runner and cyclist at the time and triathlon seemed like the next logical step. After participating in a number of triathlons and two Iron Man 70.3s, in Durban, I was hooked. In May 2019, the unthinkable happened, I was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome, compression of the spinal cord. This resulted in me being paralysed from the waist down due to nerve damage. Through an extended period in hospital, intense physiotherapy and rehabilitation, I had to literally learn to walk again. To date, I have made significant progress, but remain partially disabled with nerve damage to my limbs and the need to use crutches to walk safely.”

“No longer being able to participate in triathlon, but still being able to swim, I needed a new challenge. I chatted to my coach and together we planned my journey to the Robben Island Crossing” said Diamond.

Borstrock had been participating as an amateur triathlete, having completed a few Iron Man 70,3s and an Iron Man 140.6 in 2019, and the idea of open water swimming had always appealed. “When lockdown finally eased, and the gyms opened and events started again, I decided to add the swimming to my exercise regime, in order to mix it up and get fit again” he said.

This is where the open water journeys of Borstrock and Diamond intersect. “[Shaun Diamond] suggested that I join him, and after a few weeks of procrastinating, I was committed! The training was intense, with anywhere between 7,5km and +-15km per week in the pool, coupled with a weekly session of open water swimming to keep it real and assist with the cold water conditioning,” Borstrock explained.

Speaking of their open water training and the group that swam on the day, Borstrock and Diamond both trained with Britt Hyland and her squad at K8 Coaching. The group all swam as individuals, but since it wasn’t a race, they trained and socialised as a unit. Diamond recalls, “I followed a rigorous training programme with indoor pool squad training sessions with my pool coach, Cara Lee, and regular open water sea swims with Britt. The month before was the hardest, with early 5am, 4km extended pool sessions and long open water sea swims. The sea swims trained me to acclimatise to the cold water, swell, strong currents and swimming through kelp, all elements of the Robben Island Crossing.”

Borstrock was given many tips and tricks from experienced swimmers to help pass the time during the swim, but he preferred the solitude and beauty of the silence, and used the time as an opportunity to focus on his breathing patterns, stroke consistency and correctness. “This was sufficient to keep me well occupied for the three hours I was in the water!” Diamond added that “all I did was focus on the positive and that every swim stroke was getting me closer to achieving my incredible goal. I thought about my late mom a lot and how proud she would have been. So with all these factors, the monotony faded away.”

Describing the final stretch Borstrock says, “Within about 600m of completing the swim, I started losing focus and becoming somewhat disorientated and overwhelmed by the fact that the end was near. By the time I eventually got out of the water to see all the people on the beach, my family, friends and loved ones and of course the CSO delegation, I was overcome with pride, and tears of joy. I’d managed to accomplish my goals and bring more light into the world. I was happy, and it was a phenomenal day out.” He plans to support more of the local open water swim events in and around Cape Town in the future.

Diamond says of his finish “I was elated and super-proud of myself, and so grateful for the experience and all who helped me achieve this incredible goal. Arriving at Big Bay and seeing so many friends, family and supporters was something I will cherish forever. Right now I need to rest, but I am sure a swim in the future is a likely plan!”

Did you know? The first Robben Island swim was recorded in 1909 when Henry Charteris Hooper swam from Robben Island to the old Cape Town harbour. It took Hooper around seven hours to complete the swim of approximately 11km. Despite the relatively short distances (between 7km and 11km depending on the route) swimming from Robben Island remains a challenge mostly due to the cold water temperature.

• Published in the print edition of the May 2021 issue. Download the May 2021 issue PDF here.

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