I was recently invited to be one of the guest speakers at Durban Girls College for their annual Sports Awards Dinner. It was such an honour and privilege to be able to share a small part of my story with the future sporting generation. I was humbled to be sharing alongside Grant Twiggy Baker- (World number 1 big Wave Surfer) I thought the questions put to me were incredibly perceptive and pertinent to encompass why I do what I do and what drives me. I am pasting a copy of the interview below:
John Mcarthy -owner and editor of the online Bomb Surf magazine was the interviewer:
1. You are a very accomplished athlete, but still swimming across the bay from Umhlanga to Durban is a distance of 18kms! It is not only the distance that is a factor, along the way you had to deal with huge surf, serious rip currents, jelly fish, blue bottles and even an encounter with a shark. Was there ever a point where you thought you might not make it, if so what was it that kept you going?
I knew that once I was in the water, nothing could get me out! I had done a lot of work with my sports psychologist in the build up to the swim to prepare my mind for the event. I trusted my support crew implicitly and it was their job to keep me on track and safe in the water. Despite seeing jelly fish, I never saw the shark or blue bottles because my team was amazing at steering the wildlife away from me. I was completely calm at all times thanks to the calmness of my team.
2. As both an athlete and a coach you have an understanding of the commitment, dedication and sacrifice required to be an elite level athlete. Can you describe your training schedule leading up to this swim as well as some of the sacrifices you had to make to ensure your best possible chance of success?
I think I made loads of sacrifices when I was younger and still training competitively. Swimmers out there will know the hours it takes to take just 1 second off a 50m time. I was very diligent and sacrificed by having lots of early nights while my mates were still out having fun, making sure I ate enough and the right food, sleeping properly etc. I think my biggest sacrifice was holidays. As a swimmer you can’t afford to be out the water for long, so I never had a holiday until a year after I retired when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend 4 months travelling the world.
So I had that background leading into this swim, I knew I could do the distance, for me the mental training was essential as well as picking the right team to be there on the day.
3. You are a qualified physiotherapist, a Pilates instructor, a certified swimming coach… I’m seeing a pattern here, you like to help people. As a healer and a teacher what is the mistake you most often see your students or patients make?
This is something I have also learnt the hard way! Pushing through pain and injury/ fatigue no matter what. Athletes and particularly swimmers, tend to have this ingrained and hardened belief of no pain no gain mentality. If it hurts, swim harder, if you’re tired that’s good, keep pushing, I think for me it is something that comes with experience, But i have and still am learning to listen to my body. There is a fine line between pushing boundaries and resting a small niggle to prevent week of tears and frustration due to neglect.
Prevention is better than cure. Listen to your body and be sure to communicate clearly with your coach and medical professional.
4. In 1999 you completed a 5 day wilderness trail in the Umfolozi bush, why was that experience such an important milestone in your development?
I have always loved nature and the bush. I grew up making scrap books of wild animals and playing animal conservation games. In 1999 when I was selected to spend a week in the bush, i was in my element. I think for me, when I was there, I could already see the negative impact humans had on nature and it sparked in me a desire to slow down and prevent that degradation down as much as possible. I want my kids to one day get to experience what I have and more.
5. In 2009 you retired from competitive swimming and evolved into open water swimming. This enabled you to spend more time in nature, but it also saw you aligning yourself with two organisations, Deep & Beyond in Hawaii and I Am Water, which was started in South Africa. What do these organisations do and what role do you play in them?
Deep & Beyond is involved in taking previously disabled and disadvantaged communities in to nature to experience nature and educate them about the environment and expose them to opportunities they never thought possible. I am Water aims to create awareness for ocean conservation by taking kids into the ocean and experiencing what lies beneath the sea and educating them on the importance of marine protection.
I am to raise awareness for both of these organisations as I strongly believe and support what they do and hope to be more involved in more similar projects when time allows.
6. Not content to bask in your achievements you’ve already set your next goal which is to swim from Maiu-Hawaii between the Hawaiian Islands, which is a distance of 48kms. Why is this something you want to do so badly?
It is a personal goal to challenge myself and push the boundaries, but more importantly my desire is to use what i love (swimming and nature) to make a difference in the world. I aim to inspire other people to be able to dream and empower them to reach their potential as well as raise awareness for Ocean Conservation.
7. If you could go back in time to a 16 year old Sarah and give her one piece of advice what would it be?
Listen to your mom! (seriously, as much as I hate to admit it, my mom was often right when I pushed myself too hard.)
But if I had to give myself advice, it is something i still have to remind myself of daily, don’t forget why you do what you do- don’t lose your joy in it, cos then there is no point. Life is all about the journey- Goals are important and helpful, but they cannot be the end point because what happens once you reach them or even, what happens if you don’t. There is a lot more to life than personal mile stones.
8. You have mentioned the importance of your team and having people who share your dream and vision to journey with you and back you, can you describe your team to us?
Sports psychologist- this is probably the most important part of my team- The physical training is easy cos I have done that before, but to prepare my mind to swim in an unknown sea, with very real threats living in it as well as the amount of time I will be in the water, s essential. I can only control the controllable; I need to be prepared mentally to deal with all sorts of possible uncontrollable scenarios.
Coach- I have my original coach in CT providing me with all my programs and then a local coach here who deals with me in the water, motivating me and keeping me on track
Biokineticist & Pilates- Essential to keep me injury free by keeping my small muscles string and general strength work to protect my joints
Doctor- routine check ups, preventative vitamin B injections etc
Massage therapist and physio- general maintenance to prevent niggles and treat any injury
P.A- all my fundraising, marketing and most of my admin is done by her to allow me to focus on what i do best! (swim)
Training partners- to keep me motivated
Support crew on the day- boats and skiis to look out for dangerous creatures and be on standby for any emergency.