Graeme Schlachter, Extreme Challenger From Zimbabwe

Graeme Schlachter, Extreme Challenger From Zimbabwe

Graeme Schlachter aka ZimHippo became the third Zimbabwean to successful swim the English Channel. Graeme, a relative newcomer to marathon swimming, just jumped in cold-turkey.

But when he jumped in, he jumped in all the way. “I had absolutely no desire to swim the English Channel before I decided to take it on.”

Q1. Where do you train?
ZimHippo: I generally train at the gym during the winter months with my masters class about 3 times a week. During the summer, I train at some lakes where there are a lot of triathletes who train and they all look at me a bit weirdly when I arrive at 6 am in just a costume while they are all kitted out like they are swimming the Arctic.

Q2. What have you seen in your training swims?
ZimHippo: Dolphins, seals and jellyfish are the animals that I have seen. With regards to observing other swimmers on long training swims, swimmers plodding through the miles, hanging around protected walls in harbours as it is not so rough there. I must admit this is a bit difficult to answer as I am usually lost in thoughts about making every stroke as good as it can be.

Q3. Has any creature ever scared you on your training swims?
ZimHippo: No creature has ever scared me – even when the seals come and nibble your toes or nudge you while you are swimming. There has been the odd piece of floating wood/debris that has had me a bit concerned. When I used to swim in Africa, the lakes were generally fairly muddy or, for want of a better word “opaque” and often riddled with weeds of some description and having those wrap around your legs when you are swimming can set the heart racing a bit.

Q4. Do you have training partners or escorts when you do your swim?
ZimHippo: Generally no. I do enjoy swimming with others, but do not really stick together. If I do long swims on my own, it will generally be in lakes, close to the coast so I can get out if I need to. When doing long swims in the pool I do it in solitude. I don’t really like people to train with me when I am focused on a long set in the pool. I will always train with a watch and monitor my times throughout the whole set. I personally think escorts can be more of a hinderance than a help and take focus away from my swimming. I do understand the necessity of them in really long swims, but generally I would prefer not to have them for the 5 – 10K swims. As for training partners, again I would prefer not to have them unless they swim at a very similar speed to me as I feel obliged to wait for slower swimmers.

Q5. What is the water temperature where you swim?
ZimHippo: The temperature of the indoor pool that I swim at is a balmy 26°C (78°F). I can’t do more than about 10K maximum before my body starts to overheat. Lakes and oceans is gnerally between 10-17°C (50-62°F). This is when I do my 6+ hour swims.

Q6. How do/did you become acclimated to colder water?
ZimHippo: The first time I had ever been in cold water was about 4 months before my swim. Acclimatizing for this, I set myself a goal of not wearing a jersey or fleece throughout the previous winter. Even when the temperatures went below freezing, I would be out and about in my t-shirt and maybe a gillet to protect my back from the wind. Cold baths – not very nice in mid-winter – but all for a good cause. I would say that I have a very good propensity to deal with the cold and when I was swimming in cold water, it was only about the first 5 minutes that I felt it until my body started to generate its own heat. I was amazed that I did not suffer more with the cold and the salt water as I hate the taste of it.

Q7. What are your next plans?
ZimHippo: Sadly, some of my friends felt a bit left out, so last year and this year I have not done much open water swimming as I have been focusing on other challenges – Extreme5Challenge. Going forward I would like to do Lake Windermere, the Robin Island Swim in South Africa, a double English Channel swim, the Strait of Gibraltar and, if I can talk my wife around, I would like to go and swim in the Arctic Circle before it becomes too tropical to swim there. I am proabably going to put a team together to do a relay Channel swim. Th 580K Lake Malawi [that sits between western Mozambique, eastern Malawi and southern Tanzania] is another swim that I would like to do. I think, to date it has not been done.

Q8. Do you ever go down to South Africa and train with all the cold-water swimmers in Cape Town?
ZimHippo: Sadly I do not really go down there that often as I am now based in the UK. I grew up in Zimbabwe, so my swims there were predominantly in quarries, lakes and pools and rivers. I do keep in touch with some of the swimmers in South Africa that have done the English Channel and hope to go and swim with them one day.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones