The year a teen queen beat all the boys at Midmar

19 January 2023 – As the aQuellé Midmar Mile heads for its 50th anniversary next month, there’s one swimmer who still holds a unique distinction.

Patricia Butcher remains the only female swimmer to have beaten the entire men’s field in the race – a feat achieved when she was just 15 years old.

Butcher stormed to victory in the 1980 race in a time of 18 minutes 13 to claim her first Midmar Mile title. Not only had she taken 1 minute 15 seconds off the previous women’s record, but she was also 7.6 seconds under the men’s record at the time.

Butcher, who went on to become the first woman to claim three straight aQuellé Midmar Mile victories, was no stranger to securing swimming titles. She was at one stage the South African record holder in the 200, 400 and 800m freestyle and won numerous national titles between 1980 and 1982, also winning the Best Women’s Performance award at the South African National Championships for three years in a row.

After claiming her third Midmar Mile title in 1982, Butcher never returned to the race, heading to the USA in 1983 on a full scholarship to North Carolina State University.

Now 58, she is still based in the USA – living in Boulder, Colorado and running an age group swim team, Flatiron Swimming, with her partner – former international swimmer and triathlete, Wolfgang Dittrich.

Looking back on her remarkable achievement in 1980, Butcher said: “I am very proud of that swim. I remember racing really hard that year. I also think I was fortunate that I took a really direct route that year too.

“Back in those days sighting your race was quite tricky. There were very few markers along the way. I remember sighting a large buoy/float close to the middle of the route and once I passed that marker, I would start sighting the finish ramp.” 

Having started swimming the famous race at the age of 13, Butcher has fond memories of the event, despite not having been back since 1982. “I loved swimming the Midmar Mile. My memories of swimming the race are some of my fondest memories of swimming growing up in South Africa.

“I think what is also special about the Midmar Mile, is how it started off as just this really fun small local event (decades before open water swimming became an Olympic event) and has grown into one of the biggest open water swimming events in the world, drawing many top international swimmers.”

Butcher plans to travel to South Africa to be part of next month’s 50th anniversary celebrations for the aQuellé Midmar Mile but will not be swimming the race.

“It is just incredible how this event has grown. I am in awe of what Wayne Riddin has done with this event. I would never have imagined such an event could grow so big, but I loved swimming the Midmar Mile and I guess many others do too,” she said.

Speaking about her trip back to South Africa for the celebrations, Butcher added: “I am most looking forward to seeing old swimming friends I have not seen in 40 years, some of whom are still swimming the event today. I’m also very curious to see how big this event has grown.”

The 50th aQuellé Midmar Mile takes place from 9-12 February 2023 at Midmar Dam in KwaZulu-Natal. Entries to be part of this exceptional event are still open. Head to www.midmarmile.co.za for all the details.

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