Top South African open water marathon swimmer Theodore Yach, who holds the record for the most crossings to Robben Island, has published an autobiography that has been nominated for an international award by the World Open Water Swimming Association.
The 2012 winner is determined entirely by online voting, and South Africans have until 31 December 2012 to vote for In My Element, written by Yach and edited by Carola Koblitz.
The full-colour coffee table book was nominated in the world open water swimming offering of the year category, which recognises innovative commercial and free products and services that have made a positive impact on the world of open water swimming throughout the year.
His book is one of 21 nominations which include a range of other resources such as chat groups, information-sharing software applications, insurance products, open water swimming tour packages, films, and a marine life first aid kit for swimmers.
Speaking about his nomination, the Cape Town-based extreme swimmer says he didn’t expect such an overwhelming response to his book.
“It is fantastic to be recognised by my peers in the global aquatic community,” Yach says. “It is a huge honour to be nominated.”
In My Element is filled with photographs, memories and personal highlights of his often risky open water sea-swimming exploits undertaken since the 1980s, including stories about swimming with sea life such as sharks, seals and dolphins.
The autobiographical book sets out to motivate other swimmers and offer training advice, and Yach also talks about the anxiety he feels during every boat trip to the start of any swim.
In My Element is available in bookstores around the country for R275 (US$31), as well as on Kalahari.com and Loot.co.za. Proceeds from the book sales will go to the National Sea Rescue Institute, a voluntary non-profit organisation in South Africa tasked with saving lives at sea. It is run by highly skilled, unpaid volunteers who are on standby day and night throughout the year.
A worthy nominee
During office hours Yach is a divisional director at Zenprop, one of South Africa’s top property development and investment companies. He is also a director of the Mauerberger Foundation, which provides scholarships and educational support and the Cadiz Open Water Swimming Development Trust.
He is a well-known personality in the local and international open water swimming community.
The 54-year-old swimmer holds the record for the most crossings to Robben Island (67 at the last count), he’s swum across the English Channel, and he is the first person to swim from Cape Town around Robben Island and back, taking 11 hours.
Yach comes from a family of swimmers and fortunately his love for swimming was nurtured from an early age.
“My late father Solly, himself a champion swimmer, told me many years ago to keep a record of my swimming achievements, which I have done,” he says. “This has now culminated in a book which I hope will encourage more people to take up this wonderful sport.”
After many years in the water and numerous record-breaking swims, his autobiography is an inspiring story that brings alive the sport of open water swimming.
“I planned a simple paperback book until my editor looked at all the photographs and material I had, and she convinced me otherwise,” Yach says.
An unrivalled pastime
“Swimming in the ocean is my ultimate joy,” he says of his favourite pastime. “There are no boundaries, no lane ropes to constrain me and very few other people to disturb me.”
Long distance open water swimmers are always exposed to the threat of hypothermia, jellyfish stings, bluebottles and the ever-present danger of sharks, but Yach enjoys every opportunity to get into the water.
“The best part of swimming in open water is that it isn’t structured. I don’t want structure in my leisure time,” he says. “I like the solitude and the fact that I am in the middle of nature and I like the possibility of a great white that can come to visit.”
But he isn’t reckless about his hobby, and Yach takes every precaution to be safe in the water. He always swims within two metres of his support crew and he swims with a shark shield that hangs off the boat. The device creates an electronic force field around him that keeps sharks away.
He says that open water swimming is a difficult sport, and involves as much psychological preparation as physical endurance.
“The mental aspect of ocean swimming is more important than physical preparation because you are dealing with the sea, the cold water, currents, sea life and the fear of what is under the water,” he explains.
“Hypothermia and heart failure is one of the biggest risks for open water swimmers, even more than shark attacks.”
South Africa a popular open water destination
Yach says South Africa is becoming a preferred destination for top open water swimmers to train, as the water on the Cape coast is so cold.
He explains that training in water with optimal temperatures is critical for open water swimmers who are preparing for races.
“A swimmer’s ability to cope with cold water is essential and this is why they train in our waters for races such as the English Channel,” he explains. “Cape Town’s water is three to four degrees colder than anywhere else in the world.”
He says South Africa’s reputation in the world swimming community, both pool and open water, received a major boost at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“The outstanding performance of our Olympian swimmers has put swimming on the map. Swimming coaching around the country is exploding,” he says.
But what is next for the accomplished swimmer? “I have a few more things up my sleeve,” he says.
We are just going to have to wait and see what he does next.
By: Wilma den Hartigh