Courageous Cape Town trio prepare to set sail for charity

A trio of courageous Capetonians who have all faced severe adversity are preparing to sail in the Great Optimist Race hosted by Boatica at the V&A Waterfront.

Shark attack survivor Caleb Swanepoel, breast cancer warrior Adele Niemand and stroke victim Hilton Swanson are three of 15 hand-picked contestants who will be racing little Optimist dinghies for glory – and charity.

The Great Optimist charity race has been organised in collaboration with Boatica at the V&A Waterfront. The race had to take a two-year break because of the Covid pandemic.

The event is the brainchild of big wave surfer and charity campaigner Greg Bertish. Bertish is no stranger to health challenges either, having spent more than 200 days in the hospital and undergoing two open heart surgeries after contracting life-threatening bacteria.

Introducing the three survivors: 

1. Caleb Swanepoel

Caleb Swanepoel lost his right leg seven years ago in a shark attack and bounced back to become South Africa’s adaptive surfing champion. This is Caleb’s third Great Optimist race. He participated in and won the race in 2018 and 2019.

“Greg and his team are doing unbelievable things for children who have life-threatening conditions, are in hospital, and putting smiles on their faces, and if I can be a part of that and make a difference in my own way with my story then I’m 100% on board with that so it’s just an opportunity to add to what the team is doing and also an opportunity to have fun and spread a beautiful message to the world”, says Swanepoel.

2. Hilton Swanson

Former champion lifesaver Hilton Swanson experienced his life come crashing down when he had a stroke in 2002. Subsequent to this Hilton lost his marriage and career. He has since rebuilt his life and his health and has been a regular participant in previous Great Optimist Races.

The 61-year-old says: “There are many people a lot worse off than me so I am grateful for what I have. This is all about giving back and helping a good cause in these difficult times. Thank you for all your help and support”.

3. Adele Niemand 

Adele Niemand is a newcomer to the race but is hoping she’ll have beginner’s luck. The former Proteas star turned triathlete was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer a year ago and is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

“It has given me perspective, when faced with your own mortality you realise that you can either let the hardships devour you or you can use them to empower you. I have made it my mission to give cancer a voice”, says Niemand.

The 38-year-old continues, “A cause that involves children is very close to my heart. I have participated in many Ironman events for kids and organisations like the Little Optimist, which gives children voices that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It empowers them to be better and gives them hope to achieve more.”

The other Optimists in the race will be sailed by celebrities – including Cape Talk’s Pippa Hudson and adventurer Riaan Manser – captains of industry and other medical survivors.

“This year is going to be fast and furious and all in the name of raising funds for the Little Optimist Trust and other charities,” says Bertish.

Not only will the race serve as one of the highlights on Boatica’s calendar, but funds raised will be poured back into the ongoing sailing therapy offered by the Little Optimist Trust’s sailing academy at Battery Park.

The academy teaches sailing skills to disadvantaged, sick and marginalised children, giving them much-needed confidence and joy.

Members of the public are invited to bring family and friends to the Academy’s sailing clinic at Boatica. They will be offering a sailing experience and lessons on 28, 29 and 30 October, in conjunction with South African Sailing.

The Great Optimist Race Details: 

  • Date: Saturday 29 October
  • Location: North Wharf Marina, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town.
  • To sponsor a boat: Donate here.
  • To book a sailing experience or for more information: Visit here.