Eleven-year-old Abriella Bredell, from Jeffreys Bay, has set a new world record as being the youngest person to swim the Robben Island Channel.
On Friday, after swimming the three-hour, 7.6km stretch with her coach, Brenton Williams, Abriella walked out of the water at Big Bay beach a champion and was still able to greet her family and supporters waiting anxiously on the beach.
“I’m alright, just very tired,” she told the media. “In the beginning, the water was cold, but it got warmer. It was hard, but not once did I decide to give up. Right now, I just want to eat as much as I can.”
Besides setting a new record, Abriella also swam to raise funds for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
Representatives of the Children’s Hospital Trust also came out in support of Abriella.
According to the Back-a-Buddy website, which is being used to raise funds for the initiative, R136 192 had already been raised by Monday this week. The goal is to raise R200 000.
Abriella’s mother, Lauryn, said she was very proud of her daughter. “I was very nervous, but the conditions were better than usual.”
She said she had put Abriella in the water as a baby and she never stopped swimming.
And although Lauryn admits she doesn’t know where her daughter gets the swimming gene from, as she does not do any sport, she says Abriella has a very competitive nature.
“She has been training six days a week and going to physiotherapy to prepare herself for this. She’s done galas and open-water swimming, but never at this distance.”
Lauryn said she and Abriella’s father, Pierre, had helped their daughter choose a charity.
“She wanted to do something that would help children. At first she wanted to use the money to build a public pool where children could learn to swim, but that seemed like a more long-term plan.
“She decided on Red Cross Children’s Hospital, as we encouraged her to find a charity that will use the funds in the right way.”
Abriella then became an ambassador for the hospital.
Children’s Hospital Trust spokeswoman, Toni Erasmus, said the hospital was very proud of Abriella and grateful she had chosen to support it.
“Abriella loves children, and decided she wanted to make a difference in their lives. She trained very hard for this, and her dedication is admirable.”
She said this year, Red Cross will be upgrading its oncology ward, so the money raised will be used for this project.
Speaking after the swim, Abriella said she was thrilled to have set a record.
“It was a good experience, I just wished I could have body surfed to catch the breaking waves.”
Asked how she managed to keep positive and finish the swim, she said she often speaks or sings to herself to occupy her mind.
“I didn’t feel too tired to carry on.”
She said she had decided to do the swim because she had wanted to do something “useful”.
“I also chose Red Cross Children’s Hospital because I wanted to help children, and I know the money raised will be used properly.”
Lauryn said: “In our home, our children are encouraged to do whatever they are passionate about.”
Abriella is the eldest of four children – she has two sisters and a brother.
Asked what she will do next, Abriella said: “I haven’t thought about it, but I do know that my sister wants to do 200 hip circles for gymnastics.”
Brenton, her coach, said he was satisfied that Abriella was able to get this one in the bag.
“I swam the channel a few times, but this was to support Abriella and make sure she got through it.”
He said they could not have asked for better conditions to complete the swim.
“The water was 15 degrees, warmer than what we hoped for, and there were no currents, so the water was smooth.
“We have trained in worse conditions, so I was confident, but we basically swam straight across from Robben Island, which was fantastic.”
He said Abriella did get a bit tired but still swam to finish.
“She was very positive. This is also a mental challenge as well, not just a physical one. We did the Clifton to Three Anchor Bay open water swim and some others, and that really toughened her up.”
To donate to Abriella’s campaign, visit www.abriellabredell.co.za, or donate via the Back-a-Buddy campaign at www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/abriella-bredell