A dip into Ryan Stramrood’s swimming CV is impressive, and cold: he has completed 62 Robben Island-to-mainland crossings, swam solo across the English Channel and, as part of a team of South Africans, was among the first South African males to swim from Europe to Africa via the Gibraltar Strait, swam the first official “Ice Mile” in -1°C water, completed the world’s first swim around the southernmost tip of South America – Cape Horn, among his many, many other accolades shared with his like-minded friends who have taken a lead in identifying, planning and conquering their many challenges in the water.

But beyond Ryan’s physical prowess, this born-and-bred Capetonian is a gifted speaker whose telling of a personal journey of challenge and discovery is deeply inspiring. A few weeks ago, Ryan presented a moving talk to our staff and volunteers, and afterwards the building was abuzz with excitement, the desire for change, and the belief that we could overcome whatever felt most difficult in our lives.

Not only is Ryan a businessman, family man, ice swimmer, record setter and inspirational speaker; he is also a Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) ambassador. We simply had to find out more.

“My message is one of inspiration, so I’m not pretending to preach conservation,” says Ryan, “but it is what I stand for and it is dear to me. Anything that educates the public on conservation, on fish, on the ocean and everything in it, certainly has a place, has value, in my world.

“When you’re swimming long distances in the sea, you feel part of it. Yes, there are always the nerves, because when you’re part of the sea you know it can be a brutal place. But it does something inside, you feel at home.”

As a SASSI ambassador, Ryan knows these white steenbras, which you can see in the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit, are on the Red list

Ryan could’ve just kept his head in the water and swum, but he has decided to become actively involved in conservation, wherever he can considering that he insists he just an “average Joe”.

“I care for everything in the ocean as much as I care for the ocean itself. And SASSI are vocal about what they do. I can help spread the word and help other people make more responsible choices in what they consume. I’m not a scientist and I don’t know a lot about conservation, but this is the one thing that I can actually do myself: help influence consumers – by talking about the issues and by leading through example – to make those sustainable choices.”

We’re used to hearing about “motivational speakers”, so what is it that makes Ryan an “inspirational speaker” instead?

“Well, a wise man – Kobus Kleyn, one of the Liberty Group’s top financial advisors and someone who’s played a big role in my life – once said to me, ‘Stop calling yourself a motivational speaker, because you can motivate people and by 5pm that afternoon they’re demotivated again. But if you inspire somebody, that lasts a lot longer and that actually lives on.’ So that’s why I consider myself an inspirational speaker.”

So what inspires Ryan?

“In the swimming realm there are people who inspire me, but they’re usually left of centre; they are, for example, not the people who can swim the English Channel the fastest - it’s the older person who’s gotten off the couch, who took 20 hours to cross the channel. That inspires me because it’s ‘head stuff’. People who have had to change gear from body to mind to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I draw a lot from different people who have done that kind of thing.

“Many times I’ve reached a point where I believe I can’t go on, and then something happens ‘upstairs’ and you push through and succeed. Some driving force pushes you beyond what you thought you could achieve, and that changes the way you think.”

How can everyday people like us get on this journey, too? “I’m not asking anyone to swim in ice water, that’s my choice – but everyone has these ‘impossibles’ in their world where they can achieve something, so they just stay in one place, where they know they can deliver, a nice and steady, neutral, risk-free life. They get by, but they don’t learn anything.

“My message is: stay here and you learn nothing. But step outside, take a risk, prepare for it, work hard for it, and I promise you: you will learn something. It might not be a happy lesson, but you will learn and use that learning to improve your life somewhere else, or it will be a great lesson and you’ll realise, ‘I should have done it years ago!’”

Ryan is currently preparing for a very big, very secret, swimming challenge. Keep an eye on his website and Facebook page for news about this inspirational life. We’re right behind you, Ryan … Just keep swimming!

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