Dr Otto Thaning
Age is not a cage, proves Cape Town’s gentleman of the sea Dr Otto Thaning, who completed his 13th Robben Island recently
Cape Town heart surgeon Dr Otto Thaning has, at 80, become the oldest person to swim the 7.5km Robben Island stretch back to the mainland. He braved 16-degree water for a swift two hour and 52-minute crossing. This was his 13th Robben Island crossing.
Thaning was paced by Robben Island veteran Martin Goodman, skippered by Triple Crown holder Roger Finch, with environmental activist and cold water legend Lewis Pugh also on board. Pugh and Thaning were also the first people recorded to swim across Lake Malawi, in 1992. He is also the oldest man to swim the 34km English Channel, which he completed in 2014 aged 73.
Pugh congratulated Thaning, saying his one-time swimming buddy was an incredibly efficient swimmer. “What makes his crossing even more astonishing is that he operates during the week. Sometimes he comes to training and he says, ‘Long day, Lewis. I had to stand on my feet operating for six hours.’”
Pugh said Thaning represented a new frontier in cold-water swimming. “I joked with him after the swim that I was going to beat his record one day, and Otto turns to me and says, “Ok, Lewis, that’ll be in 2049! That really puts it into perspective.”
Cape Long Distance Swimming Association chairwoman Kerry Kopke said that Thaning was an inspiration to open-water swimmers everywhere to get off the couch and get swimming. “Many people think they can’t swim a Robben Island crossing, but Otto has shown us that it possible, even at the age of 80! He is an incredibly accomplished swimmer, but this swim also means that we can all rethink our limitations.”
Thaning said that when he swam the English Channel, he had wanted to demonstrate that age was not necessarily a barrier to physical endeavour. “I said that long ago, and I still firmly believe it. I trained a lot with the late, great Theodore Yach, who did 108 Robben Island crossings, and his attitude was, you have to get into the cold and let it lubricate your joints. But you also have to enjoy it afterwards.”
Otto said there was no such thing as an easy Robben Island swim and that he planned on conquering many more crossings.