South Africa's JP Pietersen, Percy Montgomery and Bryan Habana (L-R) celebrate winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Photo: REUTERS/Bernard Papon

CAPE TOWN - Springbok World Cup winner, Test Centurion and record points scorer Percy Montgomery will contest the Celebrity Challenge to raise awareness on water safety at the General Tire Life Saving SA National Championships.

The Nationals take place at Camps Bay Beach from March 29-April 1 and Montgomery will front up to the challenge of LSA Brand Ambassador and trending comedian and television celebrity Siv Ngesi.

Montgomery, 44, gives up 14 years to Ngesi but says (with a chuckle) his knowledge of the local beach and surf could be a counter the exuberance of youth.

"I’ll be okay in the surf swim but the old hammies may not be too happy when it comes to beach sprints and flags," he said.

"Seriously, though, it’s fantastic that the sport of LifeSaving has a big sponsor in General Tire and that the National Championships are getting good television, social media and newspaper coverage. It will make a huge difference to those taking part. 

"I was privileged and fortunate to play a sport that has massive media appeal, but it’s vital to the health of sporting codes like lifesaving that the very best of their athletes get media exposure. It helps with funding and with sponsorships and it also means they get some form of reward for the effort they put in as athletes and as volunteers."

Ngesi and Montgomery both share a strong schoolboy waterpolo background. Ngesi played for WP and Montgomery played WP and SA Schools.

"He (Ngesi) is a young man. I hope he’ll go easy on the old man,” Montgomery said.

Ngesi is among the new generation of celebrities who align themselves with social consciousness interests, and he and Montgomery both feel there can’t be one more powerful than that which focuses on the saving of lives.

Montgomery was officially never a lifeguard but fellow Springbok legend Chester Williams famously told of how Montgomery saved his life during a Springbok team-building exercise at Plettenberg Bay in 1999.

Williams, in the book, Chester: A Biography of Courage, wrote that he couldn’t swim and was petrified of the sea.

“I was in a state of panic even before I started out on the boogie board, but tried to put on a brave face. I paddled out, the way I had seen my teammates do, but with each paddle the fear grew.

“Then I started slipping off the board. I knew I was going to drown. I felt myself sinking and knew I had no control. The more I panicked, the more I felt I was sinking. I started to scream, but no one seemed to hear me. I felt as if I was going to blank out.”

Montgomery heard the shouts and ignoring the race in which all (Springboks) were taking part, the Springbok fullback got Williams back onto the boogie board and without much fuss back to the sanctuary of the sand.

“He did not say anything. He just continued swimming, pulling me to the shore on the board. I believe that if Monty had not heard me that day, I would have drowned. Monty saved my life.”

Continental Tire SA Marketing Manager Niel Langner believes stories like the one about Williams and Montgomery highlight how being a lifeguard is not exclusive to those who patrol the beaches and safeguard pool and other water-related environments.

Langner was influential in General Tire’s alignment and investment in Life Saving SA. He tells of how different his life would have been after his then four-year-old daughter survived what potentially could have been a drowning.

“If one life is saved in the next three years because of General Tire’s R5.2 million investment it is money well spent,” says Langner. “As an organisation we were looking to align ourselves with a cause that makes a contribution towards public safety and at the same time makes an emotional connection.

“We (General Tire) are in the Life Saving business. Every year we lose 14 000 people on our roads due to accidents. That equates to 270 people per week. The loss in human life is a travesty and by educating people to be smart when on the road or in the water can only help prevent the loss of life.

“The Vision Zero initiative we have implemented as a company aims for a future with zero (road) accidents and zero fatalities. Lifesaving has similar aims - only in the water.”

Langner also hopes the corporate investment can magnify the efforts of lifeguards and add to the competitive profile of the sporting aspect.

“The volunteer Lifeguards are the real-life heroes and an event like the National Championships is a platform that celebrates the athletic and mental strength and skills of men and women and boys and girls who give of their time voluntarily and also are among the world’s best in the sport of Life Saving.”

General Tire recently committed in excess of R5 million to a three-year investment in LifeSaving South Africa to complement their road safety initiatives with the crucial need for water safety.

Weekend Argus