C A R I N A B R U W E R refers to herself as a Jack(ueline!) of all trades. She is a professional musician, a record breaking marathon swimmer, business owner, executive producer, artist manager, music promoter, charity supporter and (most importantly) a mother of three.
As the lead player and founder of the multiple award-winning instrumental pop group Sterling EQ, Carina is not only one of the most recognisable instrumental musicians in South Africa; she has also made an indelible mark on the open water and marathon swimming record books through many daring and record-breaking swimming feats. The revolutionary online gig booking platform which she conceptualised called Gigster, has become synonymous with the South African special events industry, and she has created and guided musical acts to success against all odds in the notoriously rocky music industry. In 2012, she became involved with the Little Fighters Cancer Trust, an NPO which supports children with cancer and their families, and has contributed to significant fundraising and awareness building efforts through her “Swim For Hope” initiative.
“In matric, I obviously had to choose what to study or in which direction to go. It was tough; I wanted to do everything – Accounting, Drama, Law, Launguages, Business, Mathematics… So, I chose Music. And, having been the definition of a ‘non-athlete’ all my life, I thought this was a good time to take up some form of exercise, so swimming it was…”
Carina completed the degree BMus (Hons) cum laude majoring in Solo Flute at the University of Stellenbosch in 2002, and – instead of following the example of her peers by trying to find a job in an orchestra or as a music teacher (or doing the wise thing and finding a different career altogether!) – Carina started a business in order to promote herself and her affiliated musical groups to the event industry. She was soon representing dozens of artists who were in need of promotion, and through what was now called Five Seasons Entertainment, created and facilitated regular performance opportunities for a large number of performers. At the same time, Carina was still performing at various events and concerts, and she spent an increasing amount of time feeding what has now become her number one addiction – swimming.
“I was just swimming up and down the 33.3m University pool, repeatedly, every day. It was never enough, I had to go further every time. Regulars at the pool and the adjacent gym started calling me ‘The Machine’, not that I ever really had much time to speak to them – this would have cut into my swimming time! I started reading up about long distance swimming and discovered an open water swimming (open water swimming – what’s that??) race from Simonstown to Muizenberg in January 2003 – 12km. I thought the distance sounded impossible – it had to be a typo – so I called the organisers who confirmed that the distance is correct (although it could be further if you took a bad line), that they’ve never heard of such thing as a wetsuit, and that there are more sharks on the road than in False Bay so there should be no concern. So I obviously had no choice, I had to do it. I did, and it changed my life…”
Carina won the female category of this race and finished 4th overall, and the open water swimming stalwarts of the Cape Long Distance Association took notice, and encouraged Carina to do some of the other big solo swims that Cape Town waters had to offer. Not that she needed encouragement; the ocean was calling her name, and she answered with dozens of successful extreme swims across the world between 2003 and 2006, with many records and firsts being added to her name.
“Many swims stand out for me, but the big ones were the big ones. In June 2005 I broke the female world record for the Straits of Gibraltar, I will always remember that day of Spanish celebration! 1 August 2005 was the day on which a dream came true when I swam The English Channel. It is not a day I will remember for its comfort and enjoyment, but for achieving what perhaps only a few very special people believed I could, and for finding an area of concrete within the mass of quicksand that is my resolve, which I could dig out when facing turbulent waters for as long as I live… Oh yes, and then there was False Bay…”
In March 2005 Carina attempted crossing False Bay, a 36km swim across the white shark capital of the world. The swim had been attempted some 20 times, with only 2 successful crossings at the time. She had been on standby for 2 months, waiting for the wind to drop, and on the 6th of March – a wind free but misty and cool day – Carina started her swim at 06:30 from Millers Point in heavy fog and water of 13-14 degrees. The team was hoping for conditions to improve as the sun came up, but nature had other plans. Four hours into the swim, the conditions remained ominous, and Carina was dangerously hypothermic. She was pulled out semi-unconscious after five hours, having completed only 16km of her dream swim.
“I failed. False Bay had been my big dream since I discovered open water swimming; nothing was going to stop me from crossing it, and I didn’t event make it to the halfway mark?! My 50km per week training programme, my scientific approach to studying the weather and my seasoned support team could not make the fog lift, or the water warm up. I was not invincible, my body was not as tough as my mind, and I had to accept that I was unable to swim False Bay…”
A year later on 26 February 2006, Carina swam across False Bay in 10h58, becoming only the third person in history to do so.
“And so, the biggest disappointment in my swimming career, turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences for me. Failure is important; it is essential. You are unable to appreciate success until you’ve failed. It really is much easier to regard something as impossible, than to risk everything. It is easier to never experience ecstasy…”
Her epic False Bay crossing was followed by a few fast-paced swims in 2006, including the 30km crossing of the Messinian Gulf (Greece), the 20km marathon around Key West Island (USA) and various Robben Island crossings. At the same time, Five Seasons Entertainment was expanding swiftly, and Carina was performing and recording with flamenco outfit Casta Alma. In 2007, she took the first steps towards realising her musical dream of bringing the flute to a wider, more contemporary audience by founding Classical crossover group Sterling EQ. Under Carina’s guidance, Sterling EQ became a household name in the South African music industry, with performing, touring, recording and managing the act soon taking up most of Carina’s time. Having become a mother for the first time in 2008, and again in 2011, Carina’s time was now divided between a dual career in the music industry, and raising her two daughters.
“Swimming was still a very important part of my life – the water remained the place where I could find myself and gather my thoughts. However, most of my swimming between 2007 and 2013 was done in the pool, with pace and distance being quite low down on my list of priorities. I didn’t think I would ever return to open water; I mean, I was never going to be as fast and fit as I was around the time I did False Bay and the Channel, so why bother? I was no longer driven enough for marathon swimming and could not justify spending the time and energy on conquering oceans…”
Her drive and passion for the music industry and Sterling EQ culminated in winning a coveted South African Music Award (SAMA) for Sterling EQ Live in Concert – a live DVD which Carina dreamed up and produced – in 2011. In the same year, Sterling EQ performed live on 120 occasions, one of which was the annual Gold Event of the Little Fighters Cancer Trust (LFCT), an organisation supporting children with cancer and their families. Carina was deeply touched by the organisation’s work, as well as the challenge faced by the children and their families, and became more and more involved with LFCT.
“We (Sterling EQ) get exposed to many wonderful charities, but as a mother of beautifully healthy children, the idea of children suffering from cancer really started to haunt me. I wanted to do more than appear at their events; I wanted to make a difference – for the kids and the organisation. So, I started toying with the idea of returning to the ocean as I knew that the profile I had as a member of Sterling EQ, combined with a “mad” physical challenge, would attract a lot of attention.”
And so, Swim For Hope was born in 2013. For the first time in 6 years, Carina took to the cold Atlantic ocean wearing only a swimsuit, cap and goggles, and rounded Cape Point with its notoriously wild and shark infested waters in 12 degrees Celsius, in a time of 2h36, reaching Buffels Bay in a severely hypothermic state. She raised R17,000 and a lot of media coverage for Little Fighters Cancer Trust. In 2014, in an effort to raise more money and exposure, Carina invited 14 other experienced open water swimmers to join her in what turned out to be a dramatic and record breaking group rounding of the Cape of Storms, raising over R115,000.
“Open water swimming has come alive for me again! Not because I’m breaking records or doing anything out of this world, but because I seem to have found a way of doing what I love, to make a difference – however small – in the lives of people who really need all the help and positive energy they can get.”
We all have so much to give, and when we do so with conviction, passion and love, giving actually becomes receiving. It is beautiful…”