Please enjoy this guest post from South African endurance swimmer, Sarah Ferguson. She is the founder of Breathe Conservation and is one of our global Ambassadors. In March 2019, she will attempt to become the first person ever to swim the perimeter of iconic Easter Island. Learn more HERE.
Little by little – this is my motto for the year.
8 years ago when I travelled to Hawaii for the first time to meet a friend, I never imagined that my life would have taken the twist that it has.
That trip set in motion my journey into open water swimming and pioneering a way towards a plastic free ocean. Just under 2 years ago I got to see a dream that was embedded in my heart in Hawaii 2011 come true as I swam across a channel, becoming the first African woman to do so and the 56th person in the world. 18 months later, I am in the middle of training for a world-record swim at one of the most iconic and remote islands in the world – Easter Island.
When I signed up to Hawaii, I was simply being obedient to a calling I believe God had placed on my heart to do something more meaningful with my swimming talent and growing passion for the ocean. I had no idea that it was the beginning of more swims. I did know it was the beginning of a new journey for me.
I did not realise the impact that swim would have on my life and the direction it would take. I also did not really realise the toll the preparation, fundraising and training for a swim of that nature really took out of me. I managed to maintain a relationship for the full year before Hawaii but it was not really fair to my boyfriend at the time as I had very little left to give.
I enjoyed the freedom after Hawaii of not having to train for anything specific, just maintaining my fitness levels and feeling super healthy and loving the ocean. I did a few swims the following year, one of which was the 100km elephant coast swim in Southern Mozambique and Northern KZN. I was on a high and in the back of my mind preparing for the next ‘big swim’ I was in no hurry and although I had something in mind, it was massive and required funding.
In October I went to South America with Team South Africa as one of the physios for the Youth Olympic Games. While there I had to pop over to Chile to research this swim and it turned out to be a logistical nightmare to get there, but I just knew I had to go.
I left Chile with the strong sense that my life was about to change dramatically and the decisions made there would affect the rest of my life. Daily we are faced with choices and decisions, some of which will change the trajectory of our life. My friend has a quote on her wall at home ‘Discipline is saying NO to something so that you can say YES to something better’ These past 6 weeks have been tough. I delayed training for this next swim challenge as long as I could because I knew it was going to be hard.
The eating, the constantly feeling exhausted and having no capacity for anything other than the tasks right in front of you. Facing crowds of people is exhausting and socialising challenging.
The time came with 12 weeks to go, there was nowhere to hide and I had to start training. The first 5 weeks were actually quite fun and I enjoyed reaching my weekly targets. I was away in CT for 3 weeks which was helpful and I returned tired but ready to continue with the program and up the mileage.
My biggest challenge has been trying to put on weight. I have to increase my body fat by up to 5% in 10 weeks to be able to cope with the level of swim I have set before me. When you are training as hard as I am, have a physical job and a naturally high metabolism this poses a problem.
I have never worked as hard at eating as consistently as I have these past 6 weeks. The time came to be measured and I breathed a sigh of relief as I put on 3% in 1 month!
Consistency is key.
I have consistently eaten the right foods at the right time, at times force feeding myself to meet my daily demands. It has meant saying no to a social coffee after a training swim so that I can go home and eat a substantial breakfast. It has meant saying no to going out for dinner with friends at times so that I can prepare meals for the week. It has meant saying no to a weekend away in Mozambique so I can focus on colder water training and stability and less travel time in the build up to the event.
It has been hard. I am tired, it has been inconvenient and it has not always been fun. I am constantly tired, my body is always sore and I carry stupid little shoulder niggles from sheer exhaustion. I have been good and taken rest weeks and days when required. I have limited my working hours to fewer patients a day which means a massive knock on the budget just to allow me some breathing space and recovery time. I thought I had 6 weeks to go and realised it was 7 and was sad by the thought that I have to push for a little longer.
Why do I do it? I do it because I have no doubt that this is the calling God has placed on my life. I love the challenge and I love being out in the open ocean, exposed to the elements at the very core of nature enveloped by the ocean. Raw and vulnerable to the elements swimming 1 stroke at a time, little by little to reach my destination. I do it because I can. I do it because I can’t not, I do it for the animals, I do it to give me a voice and platform to advocate for the oceans. I do it to inspire people to do just 1 thing to make a difference in our world.
How do I keep going? Little by little, day by day, one stroke at a time. It is not always easy, but it is always worth it and the why behind my journey makes it worthwhile.