Chelmsford Challenge celebrates 33 years

Swimmers are champing at the bit to take on the 33rd Chelmsford Challenge.

On February 18, the KFC Chelmsford Challenge celebrates 33 years of existence.

With a storied history, this is reportedly the third oldest open water race in South Africa, after the Midmar Mile and the Buffalo River Swim.

One of the architects of its success was Ernest Krause.

Organisers requested Krause to take a step back in history, and reflect on the Chelmsford Challenge’s roots with the Newcastle Swimming and Lifesaving Club.

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As a family, the family has swum the Midmar Mile on numerous occasions.

At the age of 73, Krause himself completed a 27th milestone Midmar Mile and has listed as a so-called Midmar Great.

“The club always had a large squad which swam the Midmar Mile with some success. My daughter, Mandy finished in ninth position in one race. When my son, Mark was seven years old, he said he wanted to swim the mile. I was a bit worried about this so I said I would swim with him – and he beat me!”

Krause added there was a triathlon held at Chelmsford/Ntshingwayo Dam at some point, which gave him the idea to stage a similar event over one kilometre.

“I put this idea to the club, suggesting we could raise funds for the organisation doing this, and members agreed if I would organise it. As a family, we made all the arrangements, organised arm bands and entry forms, and arranged with the Parks Board to stage it at Chelmsford Dam.”

Krause said the board was happy to help as it generated extra revenue, and the local Lions Club agreed to assist and split the profits 50/50.

However, the first race was an absolute disaster.

Krause said a course was laid out with a start and finish – there and back – with a buoy placed an estimated 500 metres out into the dam.

The women first complained they could not see the buoy.

Gordon Dowsett had the idea to anchor his boat to the buoy to improve its visibility, after which the men set off.

“I was swimming with Tod Phillips. After a while he said to me we had been swimming for 45 minutes and hadn’t reached the buoy. That’s when I realised there was something wrong – we were halfway across the dam.”

Unknown to Krause, the boat had drifted in the wind and resulted in the swimmers having to turn back and be shepherded home by lifeguards.

Despite this, the event generated a neat R500.

By the date of the next swim, a circular course was set up, beginning at the caravan park and ending with the present day race begins.

That time around, the buoy was placed by a land surveyor.

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“I continued to run this event until we left Newcastle in 1992, and I’m glad to see the tradition continues. I have been invited back to swim the Chelmsford Challenge a few times. The last time, I was the first veteran in and was invited to present the prizes at the 21st edition.”

This year, the organisers viz. Champ Marketing and Newcastle Swimming and Lifesaving Club have decided to add a triathlon event to the day’s activities.

The triathlon will incorporate a 500m swim, 3km run and 10km offroad cycle.

“You can either choose to compete as an individual or as a team. Enter online at or two hours before the event at the Chelmsford/ Ntshingwayo Reserve.”

The day’s main attraction will be the 1km men’s and women’s swim, with the 500m fun swim set for the afternoon.
All finishers in these events will receive a medal.

Cumulative prize money of R10 000 is up for grabs, and the school with the most entries receives special prizes.
“Come swim, braai and enjoy the day. Enter now!” concluded Johan Pieters of Champ Marketing.


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Bruce Douglas

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