No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory, No fear, no regrets
Tuesday, 2nd March 2021
Article by Marguerite Smit
Photos by Dirk Erasmus photography
“No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory, No fear, no regrets”
Have you noticed recently a multitude of luminous orange buoys bobbing in the sea as you drive past Hobie Beach on your morning commute or Sunday afternoon family outing? I promise it’s not a larger cousin of the Bluebottle that mutated during lockdown, and it’s not a coincidence the orange blobs are following humans. Since our beaches reopened, openwater swimmers have been flocking back in full force and for good reason! They’re getting ready for one of the world’s toughest open-water swims – the Jendamark Bellbuoy Challenge. The 5-km round-the-buoy and back swim, which is the first official race of the 2021 Open Water World Tour, is open for registration and scheduled for March 20, 2021.Another premier water sport event happening right here in our beautiful bay.
Nelson Mandela Bay annually hosts the race, which starts and finishes at Pollok Beach, just in front of the Summerstrand Lifesaving clubhouse. Swimmers circle the Bellbuoy, a shipping buoy that has a bell atop it to ward off boats and ships from the shallow reef below, which is coincidently listed as one of the top richest biodiversity areas in the world (for those into scuba diving). And it’s this rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity that messes with the mind of many a swimmer – what lurks below (cue a famous music score) is the on-a-loop thought that has ways and means of turning many into nervous wrecks. But there is a special breed of ocean-lovers that conquer that fear of the deep sea and they fill up the beach parking lots early in the morning. Some even at the moonshine hour of 5:30 am - now that’s just plain crazy! But they go the distance; some as young as 14, they conquer all kinds of sea conditions, they silence that inner fear, and like Dory, they just keep on swimming, swimming, dragging their orange safety buoys behind them.
Our very own Kyle Main was the first to swim around the buoy, followed by great international swimmers like Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria), Melissa Gorman (Austria), Rok Kerin (Slovinia) and Troy Prinsloo (SA’s own), just to name a few.
Swimming caps off to all those many great swimmers that compete, but today’s story is about an amazing mom-daughter duo that are Bellbuoy legends: Mary-Anne Stott (43 years young) and her mom, Maria Stott (with 65 spins round the sun and back). Both are firm believers that without a struggle, there is no progress – or as swimmers would say they’re “hard core”. Mary-Anne has successfully completed every one of her Bellbuoy swims and remains the only female swimmer to complete all ten Bellbuoy events. She even travelled back from China to compete in the Bellbuoy swim two years ago. She remains an unstoppable force in the world of open-water swimming! Maria herself, has started eight races and finished six, she was forced to withdraw on two of the swims, once due to hypothermia and err… umm…, once due to a shark being spotted close by (the organisers take no chances). Maria continues to hold the record for the oldest female swimmer around Bellbuoy and it needs to be noted that she started her swimming career at the ripe young age of 49! If that’s not inspiring enough, 2020 was a particularly rough year for this duo. Maria contracted COVID-19 late last year, affecting her energy levels and breathing significantly, as well as having a suspected clot on her lung. They also lost a dear family member to the SARS-Cov2 virus. But Maria has not let these setbacks stop her, as soon as she could, she was back in the water pulling her orange buoy around – not much can stop these legends from being in the ocean.
Open-water swimming is often a very solitary sport. There’s a meditative and rhythmic stillness as your arms and legs stroke the water in sync with your breathing to keep your body surging through the water. You are stuck with your own thoughts for hours, and it’s possible at times to experience an immense loneliness as you think your way to the end of the swim. But there is something deeply therapeutic about that. The bubbles and the repeated splashes transform you into a transcendental state - the salt water literally cleanses your soul and liberates your mind.
An open-water swim often imitates life, or perhaps it’s the other way round, life imitates open-water swimming? It’s so easy to lose your direction in the big-blue sea. With all the other splashing and thrashing bodies, the up-and-down swell, the cross-currents, the low profile, all combine to make it difficult to see the next buoy and find your way. Open-water swimmers are taught to “spot” a distinct object on the horizon, a tall building, a harbour crane or line of trees for example. You keep your aim on that marker and then do your best to swim in accordance with that imaginary line. It’s one of the things that make the Bellbuoy so challenging, on the out swim, there are no handy markers on the horizon, and you have to stop often to take your bearings and correct your course. So many people lose sight of their markers when life throws high seas their way, and it’s truly inspiring to see these two local ladies, the Stott duo, embrace the challenge of the Bellbuoy despite the challenge life has thrown at them. We can all take a page from their book; sometimes you just have to keep your eye on the horizon, find your marker and keep on swimming.
“Your arms they will get heavy. Your legs they will burn. You’ll struggle to breathe but you must keep swimming”
The year that has past, 2020, was a particularly tough year for most, but we are still here, still swimming. Renew your goals, aim for that marker in the distance and hold that line until the tide of life changes! And if you need a little inspiration, think of that hard core mother- daughter duo, Mary-Anne and Maria. Our eyes are certainly on them, as we wish them strength and good thoughts as they take to the water for their next Jendamark Bellbuoy Challenge. And if you’re not swimming, see you on Pollok Beach on the 20 March 2021 as we cheer these ladies around the buoy once more.