‘Cool by the pool’ legacy

SWIMMING CHAMP: Veteran swimming coach Joe Hillstrom Picture: SIPHOKAZI VUSO

Veteran swimming coach Joe Hillstrom, 74, hopes to leave a legacy behind of encouraging more people to take part in the sport.

Hillstrom, who started swimming at the age of eight, recalls a story of how he almost nearly drowned on his first attempt.

“I was rescued and I was in hospital for two days to recover. That wasn’t a really good start to my swimming career. I know when anybody is a little nervous because I have been there.” he said.

The coach has been a member of Amakhosi Swimming Club for 30 years and said he had taught about 85,000 people during his career.

“About 30 years ago, there was hardly anyone using the Joan Harrison Pool and I just made my mind up that we are going to get people to use it. I always say this to people: I will change your life if you want to change it. I can take you as far as you want to go,” said Hillstrom.

Hillstrom’s career has taken him across the continent. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of becoming the first and so far only person to swim across Lake Kariba in Zambia.

“Everybody always says ‘what about all those crocodiles?’ but in those days I didn’t even know that there were crocodiles. I guess if you don’t take a chance in life, nothing happens,” he said.

Hillstrom aims to promote swimming in the local community.

“My big mission at the moment is to get more black people to swim. When we had our national masters competition here, I had 10 ten black guys swimming and they all got medals – it was quite an achievement for them,” he said.

“More and more swimming pools need to be built. The Mdantsane swimming pool has been in a state of disrepair for the last 20 years and Mdantsane is a big area for people to depend on just one swimming pool.”

One of Hillstrom’s beginner swimmers, Kathleen Tottle, 70, praised the coach for his dedication to the sport.

“I watched a woman doing four laps without stopping and she’s 86. I thought well then I can do that too. My daughter said I should come to Joe and ever since I have started swimming with him, I have lost so much weight, I have gone from extra-large to a medium and within a few weeks my swimming has improved,” she said.

One can always find Hillstrom at the Joan Harrison Swimming Pool.

“If you are going to leave the world, you have got tota leave it worn out,” he said.


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