When the Tatler learned that Franschhoek-based open water swimmer, Michelle Weber, qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo we just had to get in touch. We managed to have a coffee two days before she departed for Tokyo and were mightily impressed by the humble and determined athlete we met.
Michelle was born in Vereeniging and grew up in Umhlanga, KZN. She learned to swim when she was eight years old. When she was twelve years old she saw Michael Phelps win eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This ignited her dream to be an Olympic swimmer.
At the age of 14 she swam at the South African Youth Championships. Here she won gold in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events and broke the South African age group records in each of these events. A month later, she competed at the Senior National Championships and broke the 1500m SA age group record in a time of 16m 35s. This qualified her for her first FINA World Championships.
While competing in these world championships she was pulled out half-way through the race because her heart rate spiked to 240 bpm. She was diagnosed with Tachycardia – a mild heart condition – and successfully operated on a month later.
In 2012 Michelle made the transition from the pool to open water. She went on to win her first world title at the Junior World Championships in Canada that year.
Michelle’s passion and dedication has kept her on the South African Elite Squad for the last ten years. She’s competed at numerous World Championships, defended 16 national titles in the 5km and 10km open water events, claimed gold at the Junior World Championships and won 4 CANA African Games titles.
Asked about training for the Olympics with so much uncertainty around them, she acknowledges that it was difficult to train not knowing when or even if the games would take place. Whatever the circumstances though she says “the Olympic Games, are still the Olympic Games!”
In an interesting coincidence Michelle won the 2016 Midmar Mile ladies race and went on to represent SA at the Rio Olympics. So when she won this year’s Midmar Mile, she was confident that she would qualify for the Tokyo Olympics!
Michelle has been coaching herself for the past five years and develops her own training sessions. An average day will see her swim a distance of 14km – 16kms and spend around 7 hours training. Clearly this doesn’t leave much time for other things but, she says, when she does have some time off she likes spending it with her close-knit family. (She’s the second oldest of four siblings.)
We’re sure Michelle will do herself and SA proud in Tokyo and look forward to another coffee on her return.
Michelle has joined Fluidlines, the official distributor for Orca in South Africa, in their sponsored athlete circle.
Text: Editorial Desk | Image: Michelle Weber