How I prepped for the English Channel – By Zani Müller

zaniThirty-three-year-old long distance swimmer, Zani Müller, is fast becoming one of SA’s most prominent female extreme athletes. We asked her about her preparation for the English Channel (set down for between 1-6 September).

Why the English Channel? Isn’t this one of the most difficult swims in the world?

It is the Everest of open water swimming. Since I discovered this awesome sport, I knew I had to try it. It’s a great test.

How have you trained for this challenge?

Many long sea swims. I swam from Robben Island to Big Bay (7.5km)14 times, Robben Island to Cape Town (10.5km) twice. Two double Robben Island to Big Bay (15km), one Big Bay to Big Bay around Robben island (24km) – that was my longest swim in training for this. Otherwise, many more hours spent in the sea at Clifton, Camps Bay and up the coast at Yzerfontein.  I also practice yoga and, especially towards the end, did any kind of exercise, anywhere.

Tell us about the mental preparation?

For me this happened mostly while swimming. Whenever I get in the water, I just think “gonna need to do this for a loooong time.” I won’t say that I did active mental preparation, aside from trying to simulate swimming conditions and just getting used to it. Your mind and body really are one thing.

Why do you put yourself through such physical and mental strain?

To prove to myself I can. Many things about this sport are easy for me: the cold, sticking it out. Since I started open water swimming in 2011 i’ve just wanted to test my limits. There is nothing like finishing a distance that you couldn’t even conceive of a few months before. The way i feel now, is that anything is possible. I anticipate the Channel to show me a thing or two, though.

What motivates you?

Gratitude. Towards the universe, just spitting out the crazy accidents that cause the most beautiful sights, like sunrise over Table Bay while you spot the starfish at Robben Island. Also to each person that contributed to my being able to do these challenges. From the legends in the Anglo Boer or South African war at the turn of the last century, the struggle heroes we have to thank for our democracy today. It feels epic to be celebrating Robben Island and those who spent their lives there by turning it into a happy place, one swim at a time. Gratitude to my mom, who made me love water from before I was born. Also to all the people that have donated money to support my Channel attempt. This gratitude motivates me to swim, but more so to make an effort to enable others to discover this fantastic sport. One of the main beneficiaries of swims in Cape Town is Splash Kids, where kids are taught to swim who’s parents wouldn’t be able to afford swimming lessons.

What are your other interests or hobbies besides swimming?

Where to begin. My next most important hobby is singing in the Rosa Choir Project, part of the Cape Cultural Collective. We come together from different neighbourhoods, all ages, races, genders to sing together. We take any awesome song and translate it into English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. The choir practices weekly in different neighbourhoods in Cape Town, recently either Langa High, Manenberg or Wetlands. The choir has members from Sea Point, Langa, Muizenberg, Mitchell’s Plain, Roskebank, Bonteheuwel, to name but a few. I’ve had to take a step back from the choir with swimming this year, though have continued to perform with them every now and then.

I love and support live acts of all kinds: theatre, live music, especially jazz. My routine has become theatre the night before a swim – gives you some food for thought for the hours in the water.

I love hiking, camping, anything outside where there are as few other humans as possible. Lucky to live in Cape Town!

Until recently I worked as a development economist. After the Channel I have a career-change waiting. I’m going into the “real economy” by becoming a liquidator and setting up a branch of the family business in Cape Town.

Who are your swimming and life heroes and why – name 3 please.

Nooo! Too many! Natalie du Toit, no. 1. Jackie Cobell and Jeanine Pearse. And Peggy Duncan – the forst South African to swim the Channel!

All women – sorry!

What are your top 3 swimming achievements thus far?

Completing the Freedom Swim 2011. My first real long swim, it took 3:30 for 9.3km at water of between 9-11C. For most of it i was by myself swimming around the rocks at Big bay. After so many months of planning and training for a Robben Island to Big Bay, doing this swim liberated me: it made me realise that i don’t need anything: no food, no boat, just this old body and a marker line on land. Come wave, currents and cold!

Swimming 450m in the icy lake at the 80th International Winter Swimming Competition in Murmansk, Russia, earlier this year.

My 24km Big Bay to Big Bay around Robben Island 24 km, 10:45 swim a few weeks ago.

What are your next big challenges: swimming and life.

Next swim: the 35km stretch across False bay and also Cape Point. I would also like to finally do an Ice Mile to be an official Ice Swimmer!

In life, I’m starting a brand new career in post-Channel life.

How do you rate swimming as means to keep fit and as a sport in general?

Fantastic. Swimming is one of the greatest gifts given to humans – a way to experience life in a weightless, quiet space. As a sport, it’s good for you at any age, exercises the most muscles in your body compared to any other sport; teaches you discipline, patience and dedication.

Do you have any advice for female swimmers who aspire to reach the goals you have achieved thus far?

To all people, my advice is a rerun classic: just do it. Don’t let others ever tell you or suggest that you can’t do something. Naysayers should be kept at a distance… It’s the people that will join you for a swim in the rain that you need to cling to.

Practically, get a good coach and read widely. Connect with swimmers across the world and write about your own experiences.

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