Saving the Planet, One Swim at a Time
Earth Day arrives on the 22 April every year, a day to celebrate the beautiful Earth that we live on and a reminder that the war against the environment continues unchecked.
I grew up in Cape Town beside a feisty Atlantic Ocean, and my earliest memories as a child and then as a student were of days spent exploring and surfing along the coastline. Then I had kids and was in the busy season of parenting and raising young adventurers… until five years ago when I started a six-week exercise programme. I had literally been doing everything at toddler pace and had reached the absolute rock bottom of fitness.
I was horrified to find that after a childhood of exploring in the great outdoors, I had let my health slide so far in the name of raising my own kids. A six-week project became a year, a daily walk became a parkrun, and eventually my journey took me right back to the ocean. My first campaign was to run a half marathon and funds for the I AM WATER foundation. I may not be a super athlete, just a middle-aged mom who very nearly missed the cut-off. I had to redefine my idea of an athlete. I had always thought that folk who ran for a cause were super athletes… but regular folk like me and you can actually do this.
The view from my recent swim around the point.
Life had turned full circle and it was time for me to get active ‘for’ the ocean. Over the years I have become increasingly aware that our ocean is crying out for help, rubbish is spewing into the ocean faster than we can clean it up. I am a firm believer in action over apathy and every little bit does count… those “take three for the sea” visits to the beach really do make a difference. Eco-conscious living is a journey not a destination and what began as our family trying to do better by eliminating as much plastic as possible escalated into something more. I wanted to do more.
The problem of garbage in the ocean is a global tragedy for so many reasons. One side of the story is cleaning the ocean, one piece of garbage at a time. The other side of the story is to stop garbage before it even reaches the beach. My “aha-moment” was one day at a beach cleanup when I realised that I had collected another bucket of cigarette butts, and I don’t even smoke. I realised that if we could educate folk about the wonders of the ocean, and the harm that pollution is doing to this magical, life-giving ecosystem, then they would be a lot more likely to take responsibility for their own garbage.
It is true that what we love we will protect, and it turns out there are lots of organisations that are educating folk and they are doing a great job. I started looking for ways that I could support existing campaigners and I discovered GivenGain. This is an organisation that connects every level of athlete with relevant NGOs.
I was buoyed on by my success with my first campaign and before I had a chance to pause and say this problem is way bigger than me, I dived into my next adventure — literally. My first swim was about 200m in the middle of winter and I loved it, I really, really loved it. I am a finisher; I am slow, but I can go all day. I was able to put my two loves together, ocean swimming and The Beach Co-op. My kids and I have been attending the New Moon Cleanup since the very beginning and once we were lucky enough to do an island cleanup on Robben Island. I remember thinking as a passing thought, “How on earth do people swim this far?”. Within a year I had trained and completed my first Robben Island Crossing first Robben Island Crossing while raising funds for The Beach Co-op.
Robben Island Crossing
Last year, while we were in lockdown, I decided to dream big and entered a 12km event across Langebaan Lagoon, and I dedicated the swim to Protect the West Coast, an organisation that educates and raises awareness about the mining and the resulting devastation to our West Coast. After months of training, I swam further than I had ever imagined that I could.
I have to say that successful GivenGain campaigns do not depend on the athlete alone, the best campaigns depend on an NGO that is prepared to work alongside an athlete on social media. I get nothing financially from this, all the money I raise goes directly to the beneficiary. As an athlete I have to fund my own training, equipment, coaching and entry fees, that is my gift. I do need the NGO to help me to raise awareness about the campaign. Lots of folk will follow an NGO, and those followers would support a campaign, even sponsor an athlete who is campaigning for them, but their followers don’t necessarily know about the campaign or the athlete. When I share my journey, I need the NGO to pass it on, to raise awareness for campaigns that are helping them. Social media brings campaigners, athletes and NGOs together. Campaigns like this are something tangible that I can do, even as a truly average athlete. I don’t have to be a winner, I don’t have to conquer at all costs, I just have to show up.
Beach cleanup at Robben Island with the kids.
I do like to pick challenges that are way bigger than me… that’s the point. I can’t help thinking what a massive privilege it is to swim for the ocean… there is nothing like swimming through a sea of seals or flying over a kelp forest and seeing all the magic beneath you. This is definitely a legacy that I want to leave for generations to come.
As an open water swimmer, I have a lot to say about environmental issues, but actions speak louder than words and so I have chosen to be active for the ocean. Right now I am on the hunt for a good challenge for this year. I am looking for a swim that will stretch me. I am guessing that if you are reading this that you also love the ocean, you too could put “swims for the ocean” on your resumé.
About the author:
My name is se7en and I have always loved adventuring and exploring in the great outdoors. I am a mom of eight kids, whom I am trying to raise as eco-warriors. Before I was a mom, I worked as an oceanographer. I have a Phd in Applied Mathematics and Underwater Acoustics. My primary concern has always been caring for the ocean environment and what part can I play in connecting to and conserving it. I began swimming open water a few years ago and now I swim for the ocean, raising awareness and funds for ocean-loving NGOs. I am an ocean ambassador.