11 February 2023 – There was much celebration on the edge of the dam as Mike Pengelly crossed the finish line of the aQuellé Midmar Mile for the 50th time on Saturday.
It was a memorable day for the 76-year-old who has swum every edition of the world’s now-largest open-water swimming event. The scene at the finish was very different to how it looked back in 1974 though. But the camaraderie has not changed.
“It was quite nice actually,” said Pengelly, who swam in a group of friends who also competed in the first event 50 years ago. “I had a lot of help from my Pinetown Otters water polo friends. I generally pull to the left, so I had one friend on the left and one on the right, so I actually swam very straight today for a change. I normally zigzag all over the place so it was really nice, special.
“It’s unbelievable to all be together… this has become such an amazing event over the last 50 years.”
Also at the finish and swimming a ceremonial final few metres of the race was the 90-year-old founder of the event, Mike “Buthie” Arbuthnot.
“To be honest, Buthie has actually been my motivator,” said Pengelly. “He’s a few years older than I am and he’s had trials and tribulations and had cancer and what-have-you, yet he keeps on turning up. I have really been inspired by Buthie. He’s unbelievable.”
As for whether he’ll still be swimming at 90, Pengelly smiled and added: “I’ll probably be good for another couple of seasons but who knows? You play it by ear. I’ll probably pitch up next year, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Also part of the celebrations on Saturday was Trevor Strydom who was the winner of the first Midmar Mile in 1974. Strydom, who flew in for the event from his home in Australia, finished in a time of 33 minutes 15 seconds.
“It was long,” he joked. “It’s wonderful being back and they were perfect conditions so I really enjoyed it.”
Speaking about how much the event has changed since he last attended in the 1980s, Strydom said: “I’m blown away – it’s much, much bigger than I ever thought it would be.”
Meanwhile, the first disabled swimmer to reach the finish on Saturday was Alani Ferreira, who clocked a personal best time of 23:09 for victory in the visually impaired category. The two-time Paralympian was accompanied by training partner and guide swimmer Emily Martens, who was swimming her 17th mile of the weekend after completing the 16-Mile Charity Challenge on Friday.
“It felt shorter than I thought it was going to be so that was good,” admitted Ferreira afterwards.
“It really is incredible. I’ve been with [race director] Wayne Riddin at Seals [Swimming Club] since I was four years old, so for 20 years. Just to be part of Midmar is already incredible for me and getting another win is amazing.”
In the other disabled categories, David Williams (28:39) and Paula van Zyl (29:39) claimed victory in the physically disabled event while Aaron Putz (25:44) and Cornelia Fowler (33:12) took the intellectually impaired titles. Hendrik Nortje (59:44) won the men’s visually impaired title while 2000 Olympic silver medallist Terence Parkin (28:04) and Maritza Snyders (33:43) won in the deaf category.
Thousands more swimmers made their way across the dam on the first day of the main events on Saturday.
Among them was Similo Dlamini, who was swimming her fourth aQuellé Midmar Mile, and who also represents South Africa in adaptive surfing.
“It was a great day, the weather was fantastic, and the dam was nice and behaved itself so it was good,” said Dlamini.
“In December we competed in the World Para-Surfing Championships, so a whole bunch of us are here as well to complete the race… obviously anything aquatic – that’s where you’ll find us.”
As for the importance of the event for disabled swimmers, Dlamini added: “Things like this where you see people get amazing times who are differently abled – this is so inspiring for me, to keep on coming back here and showing that we shouldn’t be put in a corner.
“Being differently abled doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything – just that you do things differently,” added Dlamini.
Swimming action continues on Sunday with the main elite events and the age category races. Those still wishing to swim can enter on the day at the dam but should arrive two hours before their race. For more details, head to www.midmarmile.co.za