31 January 2014
Sean Conway, the first and only man in history to swim the length of Great Britain, was in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Wednesday to attend the official press launch of the 2014 aQuelle Midmar Mile, and to lend his support to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s efforts to save the rhino.
Conway’s love of endurance events began with his participation as a schoolboy in the Midmar Mile and he has since gone on to cycle around the world and climb Mount Kilimanjaro in a penguin suit for charity.
Eight Mile Club
The former Clifton Prep and Hilton College schoolboy will be again be doing his bit for charity in the Midmar Mile as part of the Eight Mile Club and as one of 20 swimmers raising money for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s fight to save the rhino.
A total of 120 swimmers, divided into six sections, will be participating in the Club, with the beneficiaries including Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Pink Drive, the Red Cap Foundation, The Princess Charlene Foundation, the Childhood Cancer Foundation (Choc) and a group of swimmers with disabilities, who will be raising funds directly for the groups they wish to support.
“My dad [Tony Conway] has dedicated the last 35 years of his life to saving the rhino. I grew up in KZN in a game reserve, so being surrounded by rhinos was very much part of my upbringing,” Conway told SAinfo.
“Just to put it into figures, in 2007 South Africa lost only 13 rhinos to poaching. We’re now losing three a day. Something really needs to be done. They could become extinct and we can’t have that happen.
“Also, if they keep getting shot they become scared of humans, and in some of the game reserves now you just don’t see rhinos anymore because they are so afraid of people. It’s such a shame that we can’t get to appreciate these incredible animals. It’s only when you see them up close and in person that you do realise how amazing they are.”
The CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Bandile Mkhize, lauded Conway for his efforts to assist in the fight to save the rhino. “I’m very happy that he has decided to come and swim for the rhino. And I must thank Wayne [Riddin] for his efforts in helping us to raise money for saving the rhino,” Mkhize said.
“It’s a very important opportunity to push the story [of the rhino],” Mkhize said. “As I always say, we are not going to give up on this war. The more people who hear about it the better because there is no way we are going to give up. If we give up and stop talking about it, then it means that we don’t care about our rhinos anymore, but we can’t afford that.
“The fact of the matter is that if we don’t do anything about saving these rhinos, if we don’t get everybody involved, we are going to lose this battle.”
‘Very, very important’
Mkhize also praised the Midmar Mile, which brings Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife property almost half of its annual income from gate takings, terming the event “very, very important.”
“We are very proud of the association we have with the organisers of the Midmar Mile. It is one of the highlights of our calendar of events and we are very proud to be hosting it,” he said.
While there is a serious side to Sean Conway’s participation in the Midmar Mile, he said he had also returned from the United Kingdom to his roots to have fun.
‘A very different race for me’
“The Midmar Mile is a very different race for me,” Conway explained, “because in my world it is a sprint. I would normally go out and swim 10 miles really slowly. To be there with all the whippersnappers, doing it quite quickly is going to be quite tough for me, but I’m here to have fun and to promote saving the rhino.”
The entry figure for the Midmar Mile is at an all-time high ahead of the event, which takes place on 8 and February just outside Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
A flurry of late, on-the-day entries is expected, but 14 687 people had signed up by Wednesday, said event organiser Wayne Riddin.
Riddin has been organising the Midmar Mile since 1991 when the field comprised 4 890 swimmers. His goal is to grow the event to 20 000 participants, but for that to happen he said he would need help from government departments.
Call for assistance
Riddin praised Tourism KZN for their support, but said he had not received so much as an e-mailed reply in his efforts to get support from government despite the event’s outstanding track record, which includes raising R1-million for charity annually, and the high esteem in which the swimming world holds the Midmar Mile.
“Could you imagine what we could do with more money?” the former South African national swimming coach asked, citing the development of swimming as a primary goal. At present, money brought in by the Midmar Mile is funnelled back into the event, into supporting the host club, Pietermaritzburg Seals, and running a swimming development programme.
A significant fund-raiser for charities, it is an event for everyone and participants include swimmers with multiple disabilities through to Olympic champions and world record holders.