Swim of hope: 2 Pinoys eye Robben Island feat | Global News

Swim of hope: 2 Pinoys eye Robben Island feat

By: - Reporter / @cynchdbINQ
/ 04:13 AM January 26, 2014

Betsy Medalla’s profile picture in her Facebook account.

MANILA, Philippines—Charity knows no bounds for two Filipino athletes who will brave potential shark attacks and frigid temperatures in a swimming event that will largely benefit victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

The charity event is also in celebration of Philippine-South African friendship and in commemoration of the life of former South African President and antiapartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela.


Lead swimmer Betsy Medalla, 44, and secondary swimmer Julian Valencia, 40, will be the first Filipinos to take part in a historic open-water swim, where they will go out into the deep waters with temperatures ranging from 12 to 15 degrees Celsius, stretching 7.2 kilometers from the shores of Robben Island to the suburb of Bloubergstrand in Cape Town, South Africa.


Barely two weeks before the event, the two athletes are optimistic about their chances of success in the Feb. 9 swim dubbed “Rainbow of Hope: A Celebration of Philippine-South African Friendship—The 1st Robben Island Filipino Swim 2014.”

“This is a challenge that has not been done before,” Medalla told the Inquirer in an interview on Saturday.

Medalla, a mother of two and an accomplished triathlon swim coach and former member of the Philippine national swim team, said swimming in shark-infested waters was part of the challenge. She promised to do her best to make the country proud.

“We are eager to build Philippine-South African Friendship, especially after the generosity and kindness South Africans displayed in our hour of need,” she said.

Medalla is the owner and operator of the country’s most popular triathlon and open water swim blog: JustAddWaterPH.

She started swimming at the age of 8 and was recruited to the national team at 12, and managed to balance athletics and studies at the Philippine Science High School.


Upon retirement from the national team, she represented the University of the Philippines and helped regain the University Athletic Association of the Philippines swim championship as captain of the UP varsity swim team.

A former marketing and public relations executive in multinational corporations, she now coaches several executive triathletes and has produced swim stroke analysis videos for the multisport community in Manila and athletes in the Visayas.

Marathon veteran

“I am excited and honored to be part of this momentous event showcasing the enduring qualities of the Filipinos,” said Valencia, a triathlete and also a former member of the UP varsity swimming team.

Valencia, a father of two, has been active in triathlon since the mid-90s and has competed in several marathons, including two finishes in the prestigious New York City Marathon and several Ironman 70.3 distances both here and abroad. He is currently a member of Herbalife Triathlon Team and has received top age-group recognition in various races he has completed locally.

Valencia is very passionate about endurance sports and consistently looks for different venues to challenge his capabilities.

A certified Newton Natural Running Coach, he also established Turtle Pace Sports Coaching, a company that provides coaching and training to both experienced and beginner triathletes.

For the Robben Island swim, Medalla said a big part of the challenge was mental. “We’ve been really psyching ourselves up,” she said.

Over 400 people have made the Robben Island swim since 1899. However, this will be the first time Filipinos—or Asians—will take part in it.

While a number of South Africans have completed the Robben Island channel crossing, only 16 percent of attempts by other nationalities have succeeded. Most of the failed attempts by foreigners are due mainly to hypothermia, as many are not used to the frigid waters of the South Atlantic. Majority of stoppages were due to varying levels of hypothermia.

“We’ve been training very hard all year for other gruelling events to be in top physical shape,” Medalla said.

Exercise regimen

Medalla has been running and cycling four times a week—an hour on weekdays and three hours on weekends—as she is also warming up for her first marathon. She swims four times a week—a total of 12,000 to 15,000 meters in one week.

Valencia, on the other hand, does triathlon for two hours, three times a week. He swims  4,000 to 5,500 m for two hours, and cycling 50-km long rides on weekdays and 100 km on weekends.

Starting Monday, the two will train together in Baguio swimming pools for three days.

“It is summer in South Africa but the water in the Atlantic Ocean is very cold so we need to mimic the same water temperature by swimming in Baguio,” Medalla said.

The swim will last about three hours, posing a unique challenge to both swimmers who have not done extensive extreme cold water swimming.

Medalla and Valencia hope to finish the Robben Island swim in less than three hours. Valencia expects Medalla to swim ahead of him, being the more seasoned swimmer.

“It is really hard to say what to expect other than it will be a new experience,” said Valencia. “We will certainly try our very best.”

Valencia said they had been assured by the international organizers that a boat composed of two medical staffers and “spotters” would tag along. The boat is equipped with a device to keep away sharks.

The two swimmers, both training for triathlon, will be allowed to wear only standard competition swimsuits and goggles. No wet suits. Since it will be recognized as an official Robben Island swim, they will receive certificates from the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (CLDSA).

Cold weather training

Medalla and Valencia will fly to Cape Town on Feb. 3 to begin cold water endurance training at the Seapoint Olympic Pool to acclimatize to the cold water prior to the main event.

Their airfare will be sponsored by Qatar Airways and Rhenus Logistics, while their gear and equipment are being provided by TYR Endurance Sport and sports apparel-maker PSI.

The Robben Island swim will be covered by both local and international trimedia outlets, including full coverage by the Global News Network.

It aims to raise funds for the programs of Rescue 926 Inc. and the Gift of the Givers for the rehabilitation and rebuilding of communities in and around Leyte province.

Honorary Consul of Georgia in the Philippines Buddy Cunanan said the event would be “a testament to the enduring close ties between Filipinos and South Africans.” It will also be a gesture of thanks to South Africans for their help in post-Yolanda work in the Philippines and to commemorate the life of the late Mandela, who passed away on Dec. 5, 2013.

The prodemocracy icon was imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of those in solitary confinement and hard labor on Robben Island, along with other black opposition leaders. Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Today, the place is an international symbol of freedom and equality and has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site.

In November last year, Cunanan and South African Consul to the Philippines Steven Chaimowitz organized the first Philippine-South African humanitarian mission for typhoon-ravaged Leyte province.

Composed of the Philippine Coast Guard, private emergency response unit Rescue Team 926 Inc. and The Gift of the Givers Foundation, South Africa’s biggest and most active humanitarian organization, the project saw the deployment of 50 South African doctors and nurses, alongside Filipino medical personnel, to areas devastated by Yolanda and the donation of over 10 tons of relief and equipment.

Grateful Filipinos

Cunanan and Chaimowitz recently met with Tony Sellmeyer, an official of the CLDSA, to discuss the details of the event.

“I am very pleased to make this connection with Mr. Sellmeyer and the CLDSA. We were all very touched by the outpouring of support from South Africa for the victims and survivors of Yolanda. This swim is a gift to the Rainbow Nation from a grateful Filipino people,” Cunanan said.

Cunanan told the Inquirer that money would be raised from donors in South Africa who would give their contributions to the Philippine consulate, which would in turn forward them to Rescue 926.

Cunanan, the two swimmers and the consul in Cape Town will be coming out on South African TV and radio to call for donations.

For his part, Sellmeyer, whose organization supervises all swims to Robben Island, said: “This will be historic. The swimmers will not only be the first Filipinos but the first people from Asia to do this. We look forward to including their names in our record book.”

Chaimowitz and the Filipino community are making preparations for the historic event.


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‘The last pure hero’

TAGS: Betsy Medalla, Julian Valencia, Nelson Mandela, South Africa, super typhoon Yolanda, swimming, Yolanda Aid

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