Alwyn Uys has become the first paraplegic swimmer to complete the swim from Robben Island to Blouberg Beach; this is his inspiring story!
Cape Town, South Africa (21 December 2020) – Alwyn Uys was in a car accident that left him paralysed from the chest down. He turned his attentions to making his body strong and found a love for triathlons. Alwyn has such a deep love for the triathlon races that within his first 4 years of being in the wheelchair, he worked his way to being the first South African paraplegic to complete the Durban Ironman.
Now Alwyn has gone on to become the first to swim the Robben Island to Blouberg ocean crossing. Many people with other disabilities have completed the swim, but Alwyn became the first with his disability.
“I remember waking up next to the side of the road, everything was blurry but I could make out a figure standing over me telling me to lay still. I tried to get up, but there was just nothing, no movement from the chest down. Just a fiery pain throughout my body, as I got crushed by my car rolling over me.
It begs the question, how could surviving this crash be any kind of mercy?
4 years later, I wheeled onto the red carpet for the Durban Ironman in my racing wheelchair. Becoming the first South African paraplegic to ever complete an Ironman.
Maybe, just maybe, everything of my past was preparing me for this life I am living now, disabled yes, but only physically.
I realised that to fully embrace this new life and everything that it held for me, I had to let go of my past, of what happened to me and leap into the unknown of this new life, and what a life it has proven to be.”
Alwyn is a tri-athlete, but he started his intense training 12 weeks before he made the swim. Swimming is not his strongest skill, and before his accident, Alwyn never swam at all. It was this challenge that has pushed him to try new things. By becoming a swimmer, he has been able to set a goal and push to achieve it.
The swim from Robben Island is about 8km through choppy waters that have temperatures ranging around 14 degrees. Alwyn admits to facing many of his fears during this challenge. From the unknowns of the ocean at large like facing possible sharks, strong currents to facing his own thoughts through the process.
Alwyn admits that when facing challenges like this, he does slip into those dark places in his mind but it is his faith that always brings him back.
The challenges that stood out most for Alwyn were his body’s ability to retain heat, swimming without the use of his legs and fighting strong currents. Because of his disability, Alwyn’s feet are always cold and swimming in 14-degree waters made it very tough for him to keep his body warm.
Not being able to use his legs, his focus became his stroke. Alwyn does say that he didn’t struggle too much as his body was quite buoyant and he just had to focus on his forward momentum. The 5 to 6km stretch of his swim was by far the hardest on him mentally. The waves were hitting his face which meant he needed to hold his breath more than normal which with equally physically tiring. The constant waves also meant that Alwyn’s salt intake was higher, leaving him very thirsty and hungry.
Alwyn says that at the last 1km, you can see the shore, the beach and the many supporters. The current was hardest at the final stretch and pushed Alwyn off course, but he fought the challenging current and was able to end up at the right point on the beach.
You will be able to learn more about Alwyn in his upcoming documentary “Against All Odds” which should be out late 2021. The documentary ended filming with the completion of his Robben Island swim.
The next challenge Alwyn is setting for himself is to complete a full Ironman Challenge in South Africa. You can follow his adventures via his Facebook page here.