HOW INSPIRING!! I was honoured to assist Arafat with media syndication to help spread this wonderful feel-good story…
On Saturday 28 June, 19 year-old Arafat Gatabazi completed the 7.5km swim from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand, wearing only a standard swimsuit, swimming cap and goggles, in accordance with FINA open water swimming rules.
Arafat, who made his first attempt at this iconic open water swim in May, being pulled out of the water with hypothermia just over 1km from Blouberg, completed Saturday’s crossing in a time of 3h33 and in water temperatures ranging between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius. Elated about his achievement, Arafat said after his crossing: “I enjoyed the swim and having my coach Maik swim the last 2 Km with me was a great feeling of support.” Tony Scalabrino, who officiated over the swim on behalf of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (CLDSA), said “Arafat maintained amazing discipline throughout the period of his training and his crossing today was a good reward for such determination”
Arafat’s crossing is not only a feat of extreme cold water long distance swimming; it is the culmination of a journey of hope and a fitting symbol of personal triumph over adversity for a young man who was forced to leave the life he knew by fleeing from the Congo less than two years ago.
He fled from his homeland in October 2012, leaving his parents and two of his siblings behind, whom he suspects may have been subsequently murdered by the M23 troops. Arriving in Cape Town a month later, Arafat and his two cousins who fled with him, were eventually relocated to The Homestead, a registered non-profit organisation helping street children reconstruct their shattered lives. In January 2013 Arafat, who had completed the equivalent of Grade 10 in a village school called Kakungulu in the Congo, was placed in Grade 11 at the City Mission School. Today he is in Grade 12, is a prefect at the school and is attaining high grades in all his subjects. He has been identified for his university potential, has expressed a keen interest in computers and technology, and is even writing a book about his life.
Arafat was introduced to swimming through a swim group from the Homestead which met every Thursday at the Long Street pool. Under the leadership of volunteer Marion Wagner, a qualified swim Instructor with WP Aquatics who has swum the English Channel in a relay, the children are taught the life skill of how to survive in water. Marion recognized Arafat’s potential for long distance swimming and called on veteran cold water swimmers Selwyn Davidowitz and Tony Scalabrino, who – with the support of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (CLDSA) and trainer Maik Diercks – assisted with his further training and acclimatization for cold water swimming.
After Saturday’s feat, there is little doubt that Arafat’s name will be on the lips of the long distance open water swimming fraternity, and with continued support this exceptional young man could continue beating the odds.
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