After swimming a record 40th Midmar at the weekend, Ballito businessman and veteran athlete Mike Pengelly was undergoing surgery on Monday to repair an arm injury – an operation he delayed for three months to swim on Saturday.
Pengelly, 66, is one of only two people to have swum every Midmar since it started. And he stoically held off the repair to a bicep, which had wrenched free of its moorings in the shoulder, to do this one. He finished in 45.41.
A runner of 20 Comrades, paddler of 30 Dusis, international lifesaving competitor and well-known off-road cyclist in the Ballito area, Pengelly toughed it out amid some doubt about his ability to finish Saturday’s course with what he called his “floppy” right arm.
In a trail cycling fall in November, he was knocked unconscious, broke two ribs, and later found he had suffered an “impact compression” to the shoulder.
“My bicep started aching and I learnt that the tendon had snapped off the shoulder. It pulled like an elastic band down towards the arm joint, leaving me with a curious bicep very low on the upper arm. The more I swim and ride, the more it drops,” he said.
Pengelly swam the first Midmar as a member of the Pinetown Otters club, when the event attracted just 152 swimmers: “I had broken my left arm playing rugby for Pinetown High and swimming was the best rehabilitation with the plates and screws in my arm.”
The left arm, which he calls his “gammy” one, still cannot bend or straighten properly. He broke it again about eight years ago, while mountain biking.
His right arm has been broken three times, in various mishaps.
Pengelly recalled that in the early days of Midmar, swimmers camped at the dam, making a weekend of it.
“It was raw then, pioneer stuff, which started because Mike Arbuthnot (of Pietermaritzburg Seals) and his chums could not get down to East London, because of petrol restrictions, to swim the Buffalo Mile.
“So, he and others started the swim here and I took part on day one. It now attracts more than 14 000 swimmers, many of them from Gauteng. It is huge nowadays, a big day on the sporting calendar, and the organisation that goes into it is amazing.”
One year, because the Durban Surf member was taking part in the World Masters Lifesaving Championships in New Zealand, he swam the Midmar a week early, watched by officials. He has swum 40 now, with 79-year-old Arbuthnot.
As Pengelly waited at the water’s edge to swim on Saturday, a TV camera swept over him. Standing next to him was Olympic gold medallist Ryk Neethling.
Pengelly’s daughter, Belinda, who has clearly inherited her father’s impish sense of humour, was watching television at home in Westville. She SMSed her father: “How did Ryk manage to keep up with you?”