It’s our first pool training day, and I’m buzzing with excitement.  Eleven teenage Bhekulwandle boys are about to swim for the first time.  Ryan, one of their mentors, and I are going to teach them!  My imagination leaps ahead a few months. In March, 2013, we’ll cross the finish line of the Mudman Triathlon together, and this undertaking will be the makings of an inspirational story – who knows, maybe even a movie? The newspaper reporter is here, and she takes our first picture beside the pool and writes a few quotes in her notebook.  A brief moment later we’re in the water – where amidst the gasping and floundering I’m just relieved we took the photo already. This is going to be way tougher than I thought.

Swimming, it turns out, is harder than running.  For a while we’ve been running twice a week.  The boys, ages 15 and 16, are pretty good athletes, and a few are exceptional.  They’re also emerging leaders in year two of our Live Out Loud program.  They’re doing community mapping activities to learn about the issues in their area and the root causes;  they want to start a newspaper to report on positive stories in Bhekulwandle;  two months ago they asked to use a classroom in their high school to teach the life skills lessons from Seed of Hope to their peers – we discovered weeks later that they had 30 pupils in the class!

As a challenge, the boys decided to complete a sprint triathlon to raise awareness and funds for Seed of Hope.  We’re working on getting sponsorships, as well as running shoes (some train barefoot), swimming gear, and bicycles.  This triathlon will not only expose them to a whole new sporting culture, it will deepen their bond and allow us to spend time with them beyond the walls of the Centre.  It’s already changing their lives, and we’ve just gotten started.  We’ve added two swimming days each week, and when we get bikes, we’ll add cycling.

And so we’re here today, in the pool, for the first time ever.

Boys splutter and lunge, their arms swinging in huge arcs while they sink like stones in waist-deep water.   Some look around like they’ve just woken up and realized where they are.  One poor guy’s writhing technique manages to propel him backward, and each time he bursts through the surface to gulp air his face registers confusion.  The shivering sets in almost immediately, especially for the skinniest boys, who have almost no body fat.  Fifteen minutes in, the first leg cramps set in.  After an exhausting hour, we climb out of the pool, sobered and spent.  I haven’t heard one complaint.  Someone breaks the heavy silence: “This is just day one.  It’s only day one.”  I feel proud.  I’m learning something about courage and perseverance from a 16 year-old.  We’ll keep training, and they’ll improve.  It’s a great day, and I love my job.

4 Responses to Ironmen
  1. michelle Reply

    Great writing! It is going to be amazing to see how these boys learn to swim and then excel!! Can’t wait to race with them!!

  2. M. Adams Reply

    This is amazing! It makes it even better that the boys have a great attitude towards this undertaking. Hope it continues. I wish I was there to be a part of it. Please keep sending the updates on this endeavour.

  3. Tanya Hofer Reply

    Hey Carl,

    Could you use a cash gift towards runners and bikes for the boys. I am just thinking ahead about Lance’s Christmas gift. If so, about how much do you need?



  4. Melody Babin Reply

    WOW! That’s awesome Carl. Really looking forward to hearing how these young men grow over the next few months and of course how they do in the Triathalon!

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