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The Lowveld’s Selanna Biggs – swimming from strength to strength

Mbombela local Selanna Biggs spoke with Lowvelder about her recent swim over the length of Longmere Dam and back, an extraordinary goal she accomplished despite several setbacks in life.

“I swim because I love it. It’s saved my life in a sense…” These were the words of local Selanna Biggs, who recently, at the age of 22, achieved a goal she had set for herself when she was just 13 years old: swimming the length of Longmere Dam and back, a total of 11.5km.

Selanna Biggs. > Photo: Supplied/Cathleen Weitsz

Biggs, who over recent years had been through hell and high water, spoke with Lowvelder about completing this extraordinary goal and how swimming, especially in the calm open waters of Longmere, has been her saving grace.

Well known during her school days for her competitive running and biathlons, Biggs found out at the end of 2017 that she had to stop sport due to an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with when she was younger, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease.

She said the disease did not allow her to keep up with all the training she needed to do for the competitive sports world, and so she stopped it altogether. This was also coupled with several knee operations due to her having begun running when she was very young.

Selanna Biggs gets ready for her morning swim at Longmere Dam. > Photo: Chelsea Pieterse

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In April 2021, Biggs was dealt another massive blow when she was involved in a massive car crash off the Kaapsehoop Road, which left her with a broken femur and some other injuries.

“I thought if the autoimmune disease was not the end of the road for me, then the injuries I sustained from the accident would be. Then I thought that I could either sit around and regret what had happened, or I could get up and do something about what my future was going to look like. It started with a lot of physiotherapy and gym, and I worked my way up from there,” she said.

Speaking to Lowvelder about her new accomplishment on the banks of Longmere on Tuesday morning April 9, Biggs said that at 13 years old, she told herself and her and her brother’s triathlon group that one day she would swim the entire length and back.

“It was something I said often, and everyone would laugh about it, but now I am 22 and here I am. Longmere is my playground. I love it here. I stick to the shoreline when swimming in the dam. It is a total of about 11.5km. I first swam the entire length and back on March 30, and last Saturday, April 6, I did it again.”

Selanna Biggs in Longmere Dam. > Photo: Chelsea Pieterse

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When asked how she finds the willpower to get up early to swim, Biggs said she is actually not a morning person.  “I don’t like cold water, but I made the decision to get into open-water swimming and just do it. A big part of me completing this goal is my crew and my training partner, Jaco Weitsz. We will encourage each other to go out at 05:00 to swim, or swim in the afternoons after work. It requires a lot of mental strength. The water is cold, and I often wonder what is swimming underneath me, and there are times when something swims past me and touches my leg,” she said with a laugh.

“But you feel super powerful when you reach the other side of the dam.”

Biggs will, however, have to put a hold on her swim for the next few weeks due to a double knee operation she had on Thursday April 11. She said this operation is also due to those injuries she had sustained over time from starting running at a young age.

Selanna Biggs and her training partner Jaco Weitsz. > Photo: Supplied/Cathleen Weitsz

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Biggs only got back into open-water swimming in September last year and hopes to swim in other dams across Mpumalanga. She is a swimming coach and teaches children and seniors.

“I hope to encourage the youth who are under pressure in the competition world to swim because they enjoy it. Open-water swimming gives me a sense of freedom I missed when I was younger, and now I feel I have rekindled that joy. As a coach, I see the pressure young people are under, so I strive to support them and encourage them to swim, because they enjoy it,” she said.

“It is a big blessing, looking at the dam and to see how far I have come. And this is just the beginning for me. I am not the fastest, but I am achieving something for myself. I feel like you really can do anything you put your mind to, and if you work hard, you will find you are capable of a lot,” she said.

“Swimming is simply moving meditation, time alone with your mind and a moment of silence amid the chaos.”

> Photo: Chelsea Pieterse
> Photo: Chelsea Pieterse
> Photo: Chelsea Pieterse
> Photo: Chelsea Pieterse
> Photo: Chelsea Pieterse
> Photo: Supplied/Cathleen Weitsz
> Photo: Chelsea Pieterse

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