Words: Caroline Koll | Photos: Various PinkDrive participants
The Midmar Mile is one of those iconic South African events that should be on every citizen’s bucket list, like the Comrades, Two Oceans, Argus Cycle Tour and 94.7 Cycle Challenge. Now in its fortieth year, this swimming event has certainly stood the test of time. It has also been accredited with being the world’s largest open water swimming event and attracts around 30,000 swimmers - the youngest being 6years old and the oldest finisher, being Lorna Cochrane, at the age of 89.
Some people might wonder what the attraction is in swimming a mile (1,600 metres) in a brown murky dam, in fact so did I. As a seasoned Ironman triathlete, I scoffed at organiser Wayne Ridden’s suggestion that I come and participate in the Midmar Mile. When I asked him to give me a real challenge, he presented me with the idea of the PinkDrive 8 Mile. Now there was a challenge!
Fast becoming one of South Africa’s best-loved community activations, PinkDrive (also an official beneficiary from Comrades) is an indispensable, tangible breast cancer Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) powering a mobile mammography unit and educational vehicles through our country with the message that ‘Early Detection Saves Lives’.
PinkDrive currently runs two ‘Pink’ mobile breast check units, as well as three educational cars. Both units travel to semi-urban and urban areas around South Africa with the aim of enabling any community to have accessible education, physical examinations and to learn breast self-examination. Through the goodwill of many fortunate citizens and willing corporate businesses helping us, they in turn are helping government to touch as many citizens as they can. The mobile screening unit successfully launched in the Western Cape in 2011 and operated through local clinics, community health centres and hospitals.
To date they have provided 4,440 free mammograms, done 41,360 clinical breast examinations in community areas, educated 51,205 people and distributed educational materials to 45,000 people. They have a targeted approach when addressing social needs. The projects they are involved in are participatory, build capacity, are sustainable and have measurable impact.
The organisation carries two radiologists on its board. One of the specialists, Dr Ashwin Hurribunce comments, “PinkDrive is currently servicing 108 clinics on a rotation basis in Gauteng, which is the most densely populated region in South Africa. We have 79 more that have applied to use our services, and these have been placed on a waiting list. The public sector cannot supply the demand and right now, neither can we. There is simply an enormous need.”
8 Mile Club
The 8 Mile Club has been around for a number of years and participants are not only required to swim every event at the Midmar Mile - a total of 8 miles or 12.8 km - but also raise funds for charities. The PinkDrive 8 Milers form part of this club, with the direct intention of garnering pledges for the PinkDrive Organisation, which was started to raise awareness and provide education and testing for breast cancer to the corporate world and also disadvantaged communities; where access to such information is most often very limited.
The PinkDrive 8 Mile Challenge
A total of 24 swimmers signed up for the Pink Challenge held in February, including top swimmers Mandy Loots, Melissa Corfe and myself, in the company of multi-tasking moms, grans, company directors and young swimming talent. United, they all swam 8 miles, and every other event over the weekend, and in so doing raised a total of R300 000 for the PinkDrive.
Induction into the 8 Mile Club is not as easy as it sounds, I should tell you. You are expected to swim each mile event, and each time you finish you get back on the boat to start the next event! While for some, doing just one Midmar Mile is quite enough, but doing all eight certainly tests your endurance! You need to be sure to refuel after each swim, as even though the intensity is not as much as pool sprints, it takes a considerable amount of calories to retain body temperature and keep moving for so long. The hard part is really to start up again after having a break between each mile - your body thinks it is time for recovery and then you press the start button all over again. Survive the sore arms and you become a fully-fledged member of the 8 Mile Club!
If you have never considered the Midmar Mile - the atmosphere is truly one of a happy, '60s peace party, the campsites are full, the camaraderie is warm and the faces are friendly. Oh, and if you need more of a challenge, join the PinkDrive 8 Mile team in 2014!
Fascinating Facts About the Midmar Mile
The Midmar Mile is the world's largest competitive open water swim with all kinds of interesting facts:
• The 1973 oil crisis led to the first Midmar Mile in 1974. Mike Arbuthnot, Dick Park and Brian Glover were unable to travel to London to compete in the 1973 Buffalo Mile due to gas restrictions. As a result, they organised the first race in the Midmar Dam with 153 swimmers entered.
• Its small-town location, just north of Pietermaritzburg, is located 76 km from Durban and is called the last outpost of the British Empire.
• It is named for its location, the Midmar Dam.
• In years with poor rainfall, competitors are subjected to the infamous Midmar sprint start - a bedlam of bodies sprinting across the muddy shore and through the shallows until the water is deep enough to swim.
• To handle the vast number of competitors, swimmers start in several groups at two-minute intervals, in eight batches, over two days; the group division is based on a qualifying time in a previous event, with the fastest group leaving first.
All swimmers are called to swim for a cause, swim for a purpose, swim for PinkDrive. Visit www.pinkdrive.co.za for more information and to register to swim for PinkDrive - you will receive an awesome pink costume, towel, wet pack and much more for only R300.