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Schutte makes history completing “Mile” in icy water conditions

June 19, 2013
Cecilia Schutte

Cecilia Schutte

South African swimmer Cecilia Schutte on Monday became the first person to swim a ‘Mile in Icy water’ in the Western Cape when she completed the daunting task in the Matroosberg Nature Reserve near Ceres.

Matroosberg is the highest mountain in the Boland, and Schutte started her quest shortly after sunrise at a water temp of 4°C.

The diminutive Schutte duly completed the mile in the freezing water, wearing only a Speedo cap, bather and goggles comming through the daunting recovery phase unscathed.

Schutte’s core body temperature dropped dangerously to 31°C after the swim, but with adequate medical back-up headed by Dr Sean Gottschalk and equipment from Medi-Clinic she was well monitored through the recovery phase. he monitoring consists of checking the heart rate periodically and the body temperature.

The first 15-20 minutes after the swim is the most dangerous part, as your core temperature drops further due to the warming process that allows the cold blood to flow through the veins again.

She received adequate help getting her muscles and body loosened up before and after the swim, as well as being assisted with water safety during the swim as this was crucial to make sure she did not lose consciousness or focus of her surroundings.

Schutte subsequently became the first South African women to have swum an “Ice Mile” (a mile in water temps below 5°C). She was also the first women to be accepted into the International Ice Swimming Association.

Schutte trains outdoors, combining ocean and pool training along with a specialised Virgin Active dry land training programme.

“Cold-water extreme swimming really tests the mind and body to the limits you must be fit and able to withstand severe cold conditions, while moving the body through motions over a period of time,” she said.

“You don’t always know how your swim will turn out, I only know once I am in the water how prepared I am. There are so many variables, the body on the day, the water temp, the air temp, your mind… etc.”

“I had to start the swim by climbing in the water off a jetty, which was covered in ice from the cold evening before. This played on my mind, knowing how cold the water must be. The first part of the swim is usually the toughest for me, and you wonder if you are going to make it, with your hands and arms feeling like lead. Then things seem to find some balance somehow, it’s almost like the cold becomes part of you, you accept it in, in a way.”

While it is Schutte’s mission in life to inspire people to shrug off their fear of conquering the elements and to push the boundaries of the body’s capacity, the drug-misuse under the youth and beyond is something she takes to heart and believes needs to be address effectively for the future of our youth and country.

Further to this is her deep desire to contribute to the social conditions through her talent, and she has done this over the years by raising funds through other swimming endeavours.

The Matroosberg swim was dedicated to raising funds and creating drug awareness for programs like Narconon.

“I have always wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of people around me, and I believe it is my duty to use my talents for good. I firmly believe that swimming is the one sport that everyone can relate to, regardless of culture, age or nationality.

“I hope that I can inspire young men and women to push their own boundaries, and to use their own talents to better the conditions of others,” said Schutte.

Her next swim is planned for July at the Afri Ski resort in the Drakensberg, South Africa’s highest mountain range.

Not only will she have to contend with the icy snow surrounding the lake, she will also have the daunting task of overcoming swimming at altitude.

“The Drakensberg swim will be the biggest challenge in swimming I will have to face to date. As growing up in Cape Town at sea level, does not prepare you for altitude training and the alpine conditions on top of it will definitely be something to push through.”

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