Pushing limits in bid to learn hard lessons
In a sport where the body and mind are pushed way beyond extremes, Stramrood has learned that a vital part of the process is taking enough time to rest
On the banks of the Breede River in the Western Cape, extreme swimmer Ryan Stramrood has a small farm where his family has gathered for more than two decades. It’s also where his passion for the water began.
"I’ve travelled extensively for swimming challenges. Each destination had a specific swimming challenge that a team of friends and I wanted to undertake. There are far too many adventures to detail all of them," Stramrood says.
During his experiences, the 45-year-old has learned several lessons. One is to be prepared, as he discovered in Russia in 2016. He arrived in Moscow to utter chaos. After an 18-hour flight and two hours of scrumming at the customs area where there was no queue system and some "scary people", he was separated from his team.
"When I reached the counter, it turned out that my Russian visa said that I was female," he recalls. "However, this was not communicated to me and I was whisked off to a security holding with no way to let the others know what was going on, which I didn’t know either.
"Some interesting hours followed, but nothing nearly as challenging as the swim challenge at hand."
Stramrood was eventually let into the country and went to the town of Tyumen in Siberia to swim 1km in a "pool" cut from a frozen lake where the air temperature was –33°C and the water was just above freezing.
He also travelled to a tiny town, Höfn in Iceland, where he swam in a beautiful but frightening glacier lake called Jökulsárlón — after a challenge for a TV series episode.
"Another amazing challenge I took part in was a world first attempt to swim 100km in one day," he says. "After months of planning, I joined the Madswimmer.com team and headed up the east coast of SA.
"The group that made the attempt did all we could to find the fast-flowing Agulhas current some 30km off shore, then to swim as hard as we could riding the current for 10 to 12 hours to achieve our goal."
Sadly, the current eluded them and it became a long day of "swimming nowhere quickly" and ended in a tangle of the most violent bluebottles Stramrood has ever experienced. Still, it reminded him why preparing for an extreme swim meant going way beyond the obvious.
"My most recent travel was to Donaghadee in Northern Ireland. I was based there last July in an attempt to swim 36km from Ireland to Scotland across the difficult and icy North Channel. I made my attempt in weather that was not favourable and ended up in hospital with a pulmonary edema," he says.
In a sport where the body and mind are pushed way beyond extremes, Stramrood has learned that a vital part of the process is taking enough time to rest both. After the failed North Channel attempt brought him within inches of the end of his life, he took time to focus on family and business while slowly rebuilding his confidence, hunger, and abilities.
"For the reasons mentioned, 2018 has been a slow year with regard to big swimming challenges," he says. "I have spent some time supporting my colleague and friend Lewis Pugh on his current effort in the UK.
"But I am keeping fit, have taken on a totally different type of challenge in the extremely difficult Torpedo SwimRun Wild event in September, and there might well be a big swimming challenge lined up towards the end of the year that is yet to be revealed."
He is also working hard at running his advertising company, Stramrood Connect, growing an inspirational public speaking career, and being a single dad while training, planning, and trying to organise the funding for his next challenge.
While his training routine demands that most of his spare time is used to reach peak physical and mental shape, he still finds time to be with friends.
"The most vital [and hardest] thing to push past is the fact that our minds are designed to limit us to keep us safe and to stop us from trying something that has an uncertain outcome. There is significant margin on the other side of where one’s mind tells you the limit is. That’s the greatest lesson I have learned and am able to share," he says.