Well-known extreme swimmer and inspirational speaker Ryan Stramrood has been nominated for the prestigious World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) ‘Man of the Year’ award, after being recognised for achieving the record number of crossings from Robben Island to the mainland, in June 2020.
It was his 109th swim of the challenging crossing between Robben Island and Blouberg beach, which ranges between 7.4km and 11km of very cold water.
The award goes to a male swimmer who has shown, through his achievements in 2020, exceptional tenacity, perseverance and a sense of adventure. One of the things that makes the 2020 award particularly notable, is that each of the swimmers nominated were able to achieve these feats during a global pandemic. Ryan reached the 108th Robben Island crossing milestone just before the lockdown was announced in March 2020, matching that of his late friend Theodore Yach, who had previously held the record.
Ryan had to put his swimming plans on hold indefinitely, and face the reality that he would not be able to train in open water for the foreseeable future. Then in June 2020, only days after the lockdown regulations allowed Ryan back into the ocean, he broke the record despite a lack of proper training for over 10 weeks.
Ryan was a self-confessed couch potato before he set his mind to do the Robben Island swim for the first time in 2003. Since then he has taken on some of the world’s most extreme swims and pushed boundaries in ultra-extreme cold conditions. With a small team of South Africans, he swam the World First Official Ice Mile in Antarctica in -1C water temperature and was part of the team for the World First USA to Russia Relay (mainland to mainland). He has succeeded in crossing the notorious English Channel and has twice swum across the Straits of Gibraltar from Europe to Africa. Stramrood is also a two time Guinness World Record holder.
Since his 109th crossing in June, Ryan has completed the Robben Island swim a further five times. Asked why he continues to do the crossing, again and again, he explains: “Every single time it is a challenge, and it is the ideal training for some of my bigger swims. It was during my first crossing that I discovered that so much of open water swimming is in the mind. When your body decides it has had enough, your mind needs to kick in and tell you that you can do it. The impact of the cold is brutal”
Fellow extreme swimmer and environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh, after Ryan reached his century of Robben Island swims in May 2019, said: “I have been swimming for 32 years and I have never done an easy Robben Island, never once. The thing about Robben Island is that it’s always unpredictable: you think you are going to do two hours and conditions change and it takes three hours; you think you will take 3 hours and it becomes 5 hours. It shows Ryan has got real mental fortitude and ‘vasbyt’.”
Since his Ice Mile swim in Antarctica in 2014, Ryan has been sharing his learnings from his extreme swims as a global inspirational speaker. In the past year, many people have faced unemployment, been forced to reinvent their careers or transition to working from home, and keeping a strong mindset has been more important than ever.
“For me, there are no live stages to stand on right now, so I have had to evolve what I do to fit into a virtual environment and have added performance coaching skills to what I have to offer,” he says.
While his current talks and workshops carry the same themes of resilience thinking and grit, he says the needs of corporate teams have evolved during the pandemic: “I have found that people feel detached. Teams are feeling stuck and frustrated in their homes and are needing to connect.”
Ryan suggests: “Stop chasing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t spend this pandemic waiting for it to end. Where possible, we need to still set goals and work towards achieving them despite our circumstances.”
The WOWSA Man of the Year award winner is being chosen through a public online voting system, so South Africans are encouraged to spend a few minutes to vote for Ryan to help bring the award home.
“I am especially chuffed with this nomination as it completely embodies the messages I take around the world with me: mindset, perseverance, resilience and achieving goals in the toughest of climates. I am hugely grateful for the recognition.”
Voting closes on Friday, January 29 and you can vote for Ryan at: https://www.openwaterswimming.com/contestants/ryan-stramrood/