First Summit Programme swimmer Sam Rorwana only started really tracking his distance swum each morning last December. He has always been involved in the ocean conservation space, but structured pool time was a new challenge. He quickly realised he was spending some serious time in water – easily more than 100 hours swim time logged as of mid-March. Two hours and 54 minutes of that total is the time he spent in the water between Robben Island and Big Bay beach. The rest? Mainly churning out the lengths as part of his structured swim training programme.

A Station 16 (Strandfontein) NSRI volunteer, Sam (38) says he is no stranger to water. He is very much into the sea-conservation space, but even so, swimming that daunting stretch of water had always seemed a hugely unlikely feat. Until he was nominated by a local swimmer Paula Armstrong to be part of the CLDSA Summit Programme, an annual sponsorship of a Robben Island crossing for three developmental swimmers.

The CLDSA sponsors the swim and skipper fee, registration and membership costs, merchandise, mentoring support and subscription to two-time Olympic swimmer Michelle Weber’s Robben Island training programme.

Sam says that Michelle’s programme was key in his successful crossing, as it gave him a structured set of swim goals for each week. The 12-week course saw him starting off swimming up to 1.5km a week, and moving up to between 10 and 12km a week by week eight.

Sam was met on the beach by Paula Armstrong and CLDSA vice chair Monene Murray.

Sam encourages anyone who harbours a desire to swim in the sea to put themselves into that space. “A lot of people are very scared of water. But there’s a lot of those same people who still want to swim, but daren’t for many reasons, often social pressure. If you’re interested, go to a pool. Get into the water, and you will find a ready community waiting to guide and assist you.”

And what’s next? Sam says that the pressure is off, for the moment. Despite completing close to 8km during his Robben Island swim, when he got back into the pool recently, he found he could only manage a kilometre or so. “It’s funny how that works, now the pressure is off. It’s all in the mind. I have no immediate goal, so there’s nothing telling me to stay in the water and keep training. But that feels good, too!”

Sam with his fiancée, Jermaine.

CLDSA chair Shoneé Cornelissen says that swimming a Robben Island was on Sam’s bucket list. “We are honoured to have played a part in making this possible for him and we look forward in assisting many more development swimmers in making such dreams possible. Growing and transforming our community is what we strive for, and Sam’s journey is not over yet. We look forward to awarding him his medal and certificate at our annual Awards evening and having him involved in future developmental swimmers’ journeys,” she says.

Sam’s next challenge is probably going to be organising a date for his wedding, to fiancée Jermaine. “Jermaine was there when I had to get up at 5am every morning, in the rain and dark, to go train, so she is obviously very happy I have achieved my goal. She also enjoys the water – we go diving and snorkelling together, so I think I might have planted the seed in her head for her own island swim!”