Branden Willows spends a fair amount of time in training. Three hours a day, all year round, and when the heaters at Ellis Park don’t work, they keep going, in the cold.
The obvious question is why. “I’ve always been a swimmer, so I guess it’s become a way of life for me,” he said, “but it’s one I love and I can’t see myself stopping soon.
Many people wonder what a swimmer thinks of while in that solitary world, swimming up and down, and Branden’s answer is “sometimes a lot and sometimes not much”.
In fact, he describes it as an empty box at times. “I find that if you think too much you lose concentration on your swimming. Your style goes, and you start slowing down, so you don’t get full value out of your session.”
He likes swimming, he said, because it’s the ultimate individual sport. “You alone get the benefit of the hard work you put in and there is no-one you can blame if things don’t go well.”
The time spent swimming up and down is not wasted though. “I do spend time thinking about what I have to face, planning and thinking of solutions,” he said. “It’s all about self-development.”
All that hard work has paid off for him. He made the Central Gauteng team as an open water swimmer and has South African junior colours for lifesaving. He achieved the standards to represent the country again this year, but the proposed tour was cancelled for logistical reasons, so he’ll have to wait for next year when he’ll be competing as a senior.
In open water swimming he has a different goal. “I use it to make my contribution to those in need, so I swam the eight mile challenge at Midmar for the second time this year and next year I am going to do the 16 miles.”
What that means is that he swam Midmar four times last Saturday, and four on Sunday, with people sponsoring him, and that money went to his chosen charity, the Childhood Cancer Foundation (Choc). Next year, he’ll do it four times on each day.
And he didn’t take it easy. His average time on Saturday was 22 minutes and on Sunday it was 21 minutes, times that would put him in the top 100, if he were going for individual honours. “I try to save my best for the last race on Sunday and I did it in 20 this year, so if I only swam once I guess I could do a pretty good time.”
He is not saying that he will never try that, but for now he is happy to do the charity swims and keep his competitive spirit for lifesaving.