Local Heart, Global Soul

June 24, 2019

An Endurance Race To Help The Human Race…

Filed under: LIFE — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

Sometimes we don’t do very much with ourselves to attempt to change the world because we think “I am just one person, what can I do? What difference can I make?

Well, draw up a seat, today’s post is all about one person making a difference and he has a large majority of the Netherlands currently (as you read this) watching him do it.

This amazing individual is Maarten van der Weijden.

Some people outside of the Netherlands have heard about the famous Elfstedentocht winter ice-skating race.

Elfstedentocht” literally means “eleven city tour” and it’s where when the winter ice is thick enough, 300 speed and 16 000 recreational skaters race around an almost 200 km (120 mi) circuit that connects eleven cities on the northern Dutch province of Friesland.

The biggest problem though is that the entire race takes place on natural ice, so weather has to be cold enough to form ice minimum 15 centimetres (6 in) thick and once this happens, before the freeze turns to thaw,  the Elfstedentocht race gets a green light only about 48 hours before it actually happens. Therefore thousands of Dutch skaters train hard in the hope of a hard winter and the forming of thick ice. These skaters are selected each year by qualifying in other races (speed skating group), or from clubs and general public by lottery (for the rest).

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

It’s a grueling race, natural ice is not smooth like ice-rink ice so it take both endurance and concentration to finish the 199 km race, and many fail to finish.

When my Father was a child he said he remembered one Elfstedentocht after another, actually there have been six of them between 1940 and 1956.

However global warming has meant warmer winters so there have only been four Elfstedentochten in the past 50 years.

If humanity stays on it’s present course of C02 emissions, then my children may never see one raced in their lifetime.

So, on a super sunny weekend in June, why are we talking about a winter ice-skating race? Because it’s being raced again… not on skates this time but swum by a long distance swimmer.

Maarten van der Weijden is a Dutch Beijing Olympic Gold medal winner of the 10 km Open Water event, Gold medal in the Seville World Championship 25 km Open Water event, plus an impressive list of other long distance open water swims. Maarten swims many long distance events in aid of cancer research and attempted this 199 km swim in 2018 for the first time but his body failed him due to sickness at 163 km, three days into this four day, day and night endurance test and he had to leave the water. He raised 5 Million Euros for eleven cancer charities and after a short break, decided that he wanted to try again this year.

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

Many lessons were learned, the water quality in some of the canals had been below par and this is what had caused his sickness. The water quality issue has since been rectified. His 2018 wet-suit was not enough to keep out the cold, they had planned too few warm meals for the amount of energy he was burning swimming almost 24 hours around the clock, four days straight, the nights were mentally challenging, swimming in the dark.

Lessons learned, he is now wearing a custom made specially insulated wet-suit, a a volunteer chef on board the support boat makes hot, high calorie, but most of all tasty meals roughly every 40 minutes, so that Maarten eats even when he’s too tired to feel like eating, he’s swimming on the weekend closest to the 2019 Summer Solstice (Friday 21 June) when there are the most hours of daylight and thus the shortest nights.

He sleeps for 1 hour at a time in a tent rigged on the boat (judging by the pics on TV he doesn’t look like he even takes off the wet-suit) and this time he is swimming for more charities and hopes to raise much more.

Maarten has said that with the lessons learned from his first swim he hopes to finish this time and he also doesn’t want to be known as the man who set out to do this twice and failed twice, so that should keep him going.

If you are reading this between the Sunday evening 23rd June and Monday evening 24th June 2019 (GMT +1), Maarten is swimming as you read.

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

He also said he has a secret weapon on board the support boat: his wife, who’s job it is to tell him whatever he needs to hear to keep him going through the toughest moments, but so that she doesn’t feel like she can be hurting him by pushing too hard there is also a Doctor on board who’s job is to get Maarten out of the water if for medical reasons it be deemed unsafe for his health to continue.

So far he has swum close to three quarters of the Elfstedentocht route, the public have come out to support him in droves, sometimes lined up 10 deep in the cities. They have been there supporting him during the night too, tractors and cars lined up with their lights on in fields alongside the canals, crowds of people on bridges with lamps and phone lights in the middle of the night, and in small villages between the cities.

Dutch television is following his progress and so I snapped these photographs from the Children’s News (Zapp) because that happened to be where I caught up with Maarten’s progress tonight. Thanks therefore to the NPO TV Channel.

Just like in the official Elfstedentocht winter race there is a card that has to be stamped at a checkpoint in each of the eleven cities he passes through in order to have officially completed the race. Maarten’s support boat carries it for him whilst he swims becuase it’s a large symbolic board, and he gets it back directly before handing it in at the checkpoint.

If swimming almost around the clock from Friday evening until Monday evening was not enough, all of this is personal for Maarten, who is himself a leukemia survivor.

I am not only proud of what Maarten van der Weijden is doing, I am also amazed at what one individual can do to contribute to changing the world for good.

Wiki/Maarten van der Weijden / Elfstedentocht / Cancer Research / Swimmer /Open Water / 199 km/ 4 days / The Netherlands

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

Maarten eating a warm meal that’s on a floating tray so that he doesn’t have to get out of the water…

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

(photograph © NPO Zapp Dutch Television)

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