SEVERAL local youngsters will take on the Spar Redhouse River Mile on the Sundays River on Sunday February 19, joining 1 000 other swimmers who compete in Africa’s oldest open-water swimming event.
So far, five Port Alfred High School pupils have entered the event – four for the first time.
Duke Lee, 15, is the only “veteran” among them, having swum the mile four times.
The race was originally held on the Swartkops River but was relocated to Sundays River for the past two years because of the pollution in the Swartkops.
“I prefer the Sundays River,” said Lee, who is a fan of open-water swimming rather than school galas.
Only ten years old when he participated in his first River Mile, Lee said he was not afraid of the challenge, but was just anxious at the start with all the jostling and shoving that takes place.
“There are so many people and everyone wants to be in front,” he said.
Asked if he would eventually take up bigger challenges, like swimming the English Channel, Lee laughed and said he was content to just swim the mile.
READY TO DIVE IN: Port Alfred High School pupils, (from left) Taryn Lee, Duke Lee, Hanli Steyn, Andrew van den Berg and Lisa van den Berg will compete in the Spar Redhouse River Mile on Sunday February 19 Picture: JON HOUZET
This year his sister Taryn, 9, will join him for the first time, not actually swimming the mile but rather in the Stormforce kids’ preliminary race, in which novice swimmers 12 years swim from one side of the Sundays River to the other.
“I want to try the River Mile because my brother paved the way,” said Taryn, who enjoys swimming in school galas.
Two other siblings, Andrew and Lisa van den Berg, will also participate in the River Mile for the first time this year.
Andrew, 17, said his parents suggested that he enter the mile, as he enjoyed open-water swimming.
“I’ve never swum this distance in one go,” he said. “I’m doing it because I want the T-shirt!”
His sister Lisa, 13, also said she had never tackled a swim this long before, “but I’m not nervous – I’m a strong swimmer”.
“I want to be able to say I’ve done it.”
Fellow pupil Hanli Steyn, 14, said she was doing it “for the fun of it”.
In December she swam the Jefreys Mile, and decided to tackle the River Mile next.
“I’ve been swimming since I was five,” she said.
Started in 1924, the River Mile is celebrating its 88th anniversary with organisers, Zports Event Management, expecting another bumper event supported by Spar Eastern Cape and the seven associate sponsors of the event, who have ensured that the 2012 event is able to carry a cash prize pool of R28 000.
More than 5 000 participants and spectators are expected to converge on the slipway area of Cannonville Village.
The River Mile festival programme of events kicks off with the Discovery Off-road Trail Run and Triathlon. The 5km trail run starts at 8am and is followed by the triathlon at 9am with all proceeds from the triathlon going to the Rotary Club of Port Elizabeth Sunrise.
The Stormforce kids’ preliminary races will starts at 11.30am, the wetsuit and disabled mile swims start at 12.30pm and then the premier ladies’ mile follows at 1.30pm with the men’s race starting 45 minutes later.
In addition to the sporting events, there is a beer garden, numerous vendors and an entertainment area for kids. Entry into the grounds is free.
Online entry is encouraged on the website www.rivermile.co.za, but entry forms are available at all leading sports stores. All participants receive a silicone swim cap and commemorative brochure. Late entries from February 13 will incur a late entry penalty.