Limbless swimmer tackles Midmar Mile

8 February 2013

Limbless American open water swimmer Craig Dietz arrived in South Africa on Wednesday to take part in the world's largest open water swimming event, the aQuellé Midmar Mile. The event includes a popular category for swimmers with disabilities.

On his arrival, Dietz immediately made for Pietermaritzburg Seals Swimming Club to meet the media and to do some lengths in the pool ahead of the weekend’s aQuellé Midmar Mile.

He was immediately warm, engaging, always ready with a laugh, and accommodating towards everyone that wanted to chat to him. After talking to him for a while, his limitations seemed to melt away. Some people, though, find it more difficult to approach him. That's when Dietz turns to humour.

'Humour disarms people'

"The humour just disarms people, no pun intended," he smiled. "People don't always know what to make of me on first impressions, so I've found the humour disarms them.

"I have a lot of jokes - what do you call a guy with no arms and no legs jokes - with the easy one being what do you call a guy with no arms and no legs, in the water? Bob!"

Nowadays Dietz is an open water swimmer and a motivational speaker, but he's also a qualified attorney, having attended Duquesne University in the Steel City, his home town of Pittsburgh.

Describing his time at university, he said: "It was good. It was a lot of fun. I just tried to blend in. I was in a fraternity and I was involved in campus ministry and I made the most of my four years there.

Swimming and speaking

"I'm not practicing right now," he added. "I still maintain my licence, but the last couple of years the swimming and the speaking has taken up a lot of my time, so I've been focussing on that."

He might not have any limbs, but that is not something that Dietz regrets at all. "The reason for that being is because I've had a lot of experiences in my life and met a lot of people," he explained.

"I wouldn't be in Africa and people wouldn't give a crap if I had arms and legs, so it has led me to have a lot of experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise had. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything."

Learning about the Midmar Mile

Dietz first met aQuellé Midmar Mile organiser Wayne Riddin at the World Open Water Swimming Conference in Long Beach, California in September 2012, when Riddin invited him to swim in the event in 2013. Dietz e-mailed Riddin in November to see whether or not he was serious about the offer. "He said yeah, so we made it work."

As it has been for every overseas swimmer that has swum the Midmar Mile, the event is going to be on a scale Dietz has never experienced before. He couldn't have; it's the world’s largest open water swimming event.

"I looked it up on line," he said. "It has a great history. This is the 40th anniversary, I understand, and it's definitely not even close - I think the biggest event I have competed in to date is a thousand, 1 500 people."

The importance of family

Dietz credits his family for never letting any imitations get in his way. "Growing up, my parents and my siblings were very instrumental in pushing me to not allow my limitations to hold me back and to define me. That's just carried through for my whole life," he said.

"My catchphrase is to define your own potential as a person, to not allow your circumstances to define who you are."

His wife, Christy Appleby, has accompanied him to South Africa. "My wife is out here with me. We had to bring my manual chair instead of my power chair for logistical concerns, and so she has committed to pushing my fat butt around for four days," he laughed, showing what is clearly his trademark humourous streak once more. "You can't buy support like that."

As a child, Dietz took part in numerous sports, including 10-pin bowling, hunting, fishing, and volleyball. "The core of that starts with my mom and dad," he explained. "Growing up, if I wanted to do something, we would find a way for me to do it.

"There's a saying that I use: I'll try anything once. If I like it, I'll try it twice."

SAinfo reporter

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Limbless swimmer Craig Dietz puts in some practice ahead of the 2013 aQuellé Midmar Mile (Photo: Gameplan Media)

Midmar Mile race director Wayne Riddin with Craig Dietz and his wife Christy (Photo: Gameplan Media)

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