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A tale of endurance: Extreme swimmer ready for 100th Robben Island crossing

Single dad Ryan Stramrood runs a successful sales operation. But aside from facing all the usual tests of the daily grind, he also faces the challenges of extreme swimming.

His feats include swimming the very first official “Ice Mile” in -1°C water in Antarctica.

Back home, he's completed the Robben Island crossing an astounding 99 times and is set for this 100th.

And this protected by nothing more than a Speedo, goggles and swimming cap.

On Weekend Breakfast, Stramrood share his journey from couch potato to extreme open water swimmer.

I was a couch potato, loving the remote control, sitting on the couch getting fat.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

In 2000 I decided to join a little swimming squad and start changing my lifestyle a little bit... eventually someone said to me why don't you set the goal of swimming from Robben Island to Blouberg Beach.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

When you get in that water, you start to realise just how profoundly the cold impacts you as a human. We're not designed well to handle the cold.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

Stramrood says it's a question of understanding what's happening in the body and the mind and absorbing the lessons the cold teaches you.

It's a dangerous occupation and he emphasizes that a lot of training is required.

I am still a normal person who freaks out for the cold but I understand the processes.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

Firstly what happens is your mind, which is a very powerful tool, goes into overdrive - it implements panic, pain and fear... to accentuate self-doubt.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

While your head is spinning and you're hyper-ventilating in the extreme conditions, your body implements all its own defence mechanisms... the blood starts rushing from your extremities to your centre core to protect your vital organs.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

He says Robben Island was his first goal and he continued doing these swims for training purposes.

I started to do lots of Robben Island swims because it's a brilliant training ground, point three kilometres as the crow flies. Out there the water's rough, there are currents, there's lots of wildlife, there's stuff that stings you.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

Initially, he says, 100 Robben Island crossings was not a goal or even a possibility. But when he started reaching 70, then 80 swims people pointed out he was getting close to a hundred.

He would become only the second person to achieve this feat.

Read: Zille open to renaming Robben Island swim after 'nation-builder' Theo Yach

There's only one person who's ever done that - the late Theo Yach.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

The swim is scheduled for 23 May, depending on weather conditions.

I will swim in anything, but what I need to consider is the boats alongside to support me.

Ryan Stramrood, Extreme swimmer

After his 100th Robben Island crossing, what's next for Ryan Stramrood?

He says he has big plans, but can't divulge them yet.

For more on what it takes to become an extreme swimmer, take a listen:


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