“I only intend stopping when my brain tells me to” – Emile van Heerden

Emile and his Mom, Maryna van Heerden.

Emile van Heerden has no intention of slowing down after completing his 13th Midmar Mile race this year.

The renowned competition is the world’s largest open water swim sprint and attracts athletes from all around the globe, with close to 13 000 avid swimmers contesting in the tournament. Held annually in February at the Midmar Dam in Pietermaritzburg, the race has seen international athletes and Olympic medalists swim alongside recreational swimmers, braving out the conditions to test their endurance and record their best times.

Despite being handicapped, Emile is one of the strongest competitors in his category and finished in the top ten of this year’s race with a time of 30 minutes 38 seconds. Emile has not given up and let his disability hinder any of his dreams or achievements.

Emile’s 10 year award.

Emile reflects back on what prompted him to do the race and where it all began for him.

“I grew up in KwaZulu-Natal and while there, I started swimming and competing in the province’s Special Olympics at the tender age of six. Soon, my family and I moved to Johannesburg and that’s when I started at the Gateway School in Roodepoort and swam with the school, and I guess that’s where the bug bit me. I still remember the first race I entered in 2003 – my time was 40 minutes, 18 seconds. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I haven’t looked back since.”

When asked if he’ll hang up his swimming cap any time soon, Emile said he will only stop once his brain says so.

“I always look forward to the races and I am more than excited to take home my 14th medal. The race means a lot to me and I can’t wait to compete next year.

“I have met a number of challenges along the way but I’m grateful to have a supportive group at the Gateway. We have grown very close and make a point of meeting occasionally for braais and birthdays,” he added.

Emile said he has never missed training and attends the gym regularly. However, he has struggled to get more practice sessions in as he is currently employed.

“A lot of practice has to be put in before the race. I recently started a new job, but before that, I used to train at the Gateway Village on the West Rand. On top of the facilities having sheltered employment, they also offer services to ferry us to practice sessions and I joined a local gym to add on to my training. Closer to the race, for instance in December and January, I train every day but in my off season I only swim occasionally.”

Emile is not only a decorated swimmer – he is also a devoted runner and holds a purple belt in karate, making him a triple threat sportsman. Emile is really patriotic about South African sports and shared some of his favourite things and hobbies when he’s not training.

Emile and his medals. Photos: Liziwe Mbha

“I was once a Cell C Sharks supporter, but now I support the Free State Cheetahs rugby team. I don’t think they will win this season but they have a good chance next year and I hope they go far in the Currie Cup. Besides rugby, I watch a lot of other sports, and TV series like The Big Bang Theory, but otherwise I’m a pretty chilled guy and I like to relax. I help around the house when I’m free and I like listening to music. My favorite musician is Kurt Darren,” he said.

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  AUTHOR
Liziwe Mbha
Journalist

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