Two Filipinos will make a historic open water swim in Cape Town, South Africa on February 9, 2014, businessman, philanthropist, Honorary Consul of Georgia in the Philippines and former Manila Times columnist Buddy Cunanan announced
Entitled “A Rainbow of Hope – a Celebration of Philippine-South African Friendship,” the event involves Ms. Betsy Medalla and Mr. Julian Valencia will brave shark-infested waters and temperatures ranging from 12 to 15 degrees Celsius and swim 7.2 kilometers from the shores of Robben Island to the suburb of Bloubergstrand in Cape Town. The event is being organized by Consul Cunanan and Honorary Consul of the Philippines in Cape Town, Steven Chaimowitz.
Over 400 people have made the Robben Island swim since 1899. However, this will be the first time that Filipinos—or Asians, for that matter—will do it. To be recognized as an official Robben Island swim, Medalla and Valencia will only be allowed to wear standard competition swimsuits and goggles. Upon completion, they will receive certificates from the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association.
Lead swimmer Medalla is a 44-year-old mother of two, a former member of the
Philippine National Swim Team, and an accomplished tri-athlete swim coach.
Secondary swimmer Julian Valencia is 40-years-old, an age-group tri-athlete and runner, and a former member of the UP Varsity Swimming Team. He has competed internationally including the Cobra Ironman 70.3 CamSur and the New York City ING Marathon and several local long distance swimming events. Medalla and Valencia will fly to Cape Town on February 3 to begin cold water endurance training at the Seapoint Olympic Pool.
The Robben Island Swim Team’s airfare is being sponsored by Qatar Airways and Rhenus Logistics, while their gear and equipment is being provided by Tyr Endurance Sport and sports apparel-maker PSI.
The swim will be a gesture of thanks to South Africans for their help after Supertyphoon Yolanda and to commemorate the life of the late President Nelson Mandela, who passed away on December 5, 2013. The pro-democracy icon was imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of those in solitary confinement and hard labor on Robben island, along with other black opposition leaders. Today, the place is an international symbol of freedom and equality and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“This will be a testament to the enduring close ties between Filipinos and South Africans,” stressed Consul Cunanan. In November, he and Consul Chaimowitz organized the first Philippine–South African humanitarian mission for typhoon-ravaged Leyte province. Composed of the Philippine Coast Guard, private emergency response unit Rescue Team 926, Inc., and The Gift of the Givers Foundation, South Africa’s biggest and most active humanitarian organization, the project saw the deployment of 50 South African doctors and nurses, alongside Filipino medical personnel, to areas devastated by Yolanda and the donation of over 10 ten tons of relief goods and equipment.
The Robben Island swim will also raise funds for the programs of Rescue 926 Inc and the Gift of the Givers for the rehabilitation and rebuilding of communities in and around Leyte province.
Consuls Cunanan and Chaimowitz recently met with Tony Sellmeyer, an official of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association, to discuss the details of the event. “I am very pleased to make this connection with Mr. Sellmeyer and the CLDSA. We were all very touched by the outpouring of support from South Africa for the victims and survivors of Yolanda. This swim is a gift to the Rainbow Nation from a grateful Filipino people,” said Consul Cunanan.
“Filipinos and South Africans are brothers and sisters separated by oceans but united in common cause, love, and friendship.”
Sellmeyer, whose organization supervises all swims to Robben Island, likewise expressed elation. “This will be historic. The swimmers will not only be the first Filipinos but the first people from Asia to do this. We look forward to including their names in our record book,” he said.