It’s no secret that I’m an avid swimrunner and absolutely passionate about open water swimming. I am in the Mediterranean year-round, a minimum of three times a week and for at least 5 km a session, unless there’s a jellyfish infestation and I get grossed out, which happens once or twice a year. I’m not fast, by any means, but I am strong.
I swapped the 50-metre chlorine pool for the natural salty sea about three years ago, and have no regrets. It’s not a simple transition; you have to get used to all things living in the Med, some divine – a school of fish on a crystal-clear morning – and others, not so – like jellyfish, and the water can be face-burning cold and choppy. But it’s a glorious (and free) opportunity to connect with nature and I share my enthusiasm about swimming with anyone who’s willing to listen (and even those who aren’t).
Drowning: third leading cause of unintentional death globally
When I first heard about the Princess Charlene Foundation, which was set up five years ago with the goal to educate children in water safety and provide swimming lessons, I was all for supporting the cause. However, at first glance I presumed it was related to France, which has the highest rate in the world of infant death by drowning in swimming pools – “between 15 and 20 children aged up to five are killed every year in pool accidents”.
Even France’s former Prime Minister, Jean Pierre Raffarin, lost a relative to drowning, a precursor to the Raffarin Law, obliging all in-ground private pools on every French property to install from January 1, 2006, one of four types of pool safety features, with a penalty of €45,000 for those failing to do so.
But the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation isn’t about swimming safety along the Mediterranean coast. She promotes her global project in 30 countries, including South Africa, which is far away from France with its highest number of swimming pools in the European market.
I’ve heard heartbreaking stories about how African children drown on the way to school, when a flash flood arrives and they don’t know how to swim. Or when mothers are washing their clothes along the river, when suddenly the water rises and their children are swept away, without the basic knowledge of how to stay afloat and swim. There are no community pools to sign up young children for lessons. Think about that.
This “health problem”, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is not limited to the African continent. In fact, WHO reports that “drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths”, which results in an estimated 372,000 annual drowning deaths globally.
According to WHO, “Drowning death rates are highest in the WHO African Region, and are 10-13 times higher than those seen in the United Kingdom or Germany respectively.”
Princess Charlene and her Foundation have their work cut out for them.
The early years of Champagne and Oysters Cycling Club
Naturally, when I learned about the 140 km St-Tropez to Monaco charity bike ride, which takes place this year on Sunday, April 30, organised by the Champagne and Oyster Cycling Club (COCC), in aid of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, I knew I had to dust off my bike and pedal for a cause I firmly believe in.
I met with Damian Crean, McLaren Property Services in Monaco, to get a little background about the COCC ride, now in its sixth edition, and to see what non-riders can do to contribute.
I was surprised to learn that the idea for the ride actually stems from Movember, the annual campaign in November that encourages men to grow out their moustache to raise awareness about “men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s suicide”. One of the now regular COCC St-Tropez-Monaco riders put forward the idea of doing something more active than growing facial hair, and so the first ride in 2011 came to be, and supported a cancer charity.
After the inaugural year with its seven riders, other friends wanted to join, as did Prince Albert, and so the group decided to support a local charity, the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation.
On the first training ride, which was about 30 km, 20 cyclists including the Prince “set out on a sensible ride” and on the way back, they stopped at their regular café at Place d’Armes, when a new hut was spotted serving Champagne and Oysters. This seemed more tempting than coffee. One of the riders decided this would be a fitting name – The Champagne and Oyster Cycling Club – or COCC for short. Since then, over 500 riders, from ages 15 to 60, have participated in the COCC St-Tropez to Monaco ride. In previous years celebrities such as Eddie Jordan, Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Mika Hakkinen, Paul di Resta, David Coulthard, Baden Cook, Matt Goss, Tiffany Cromwell, Thor Hushovd, Mario Cipollini, Lizzie Armitstead, Veronica Larsson, Modesta Vžesniauskaitė Byron Kellerer, and Caroline Coor have all taken part and given their support to the Foundation.
A day you’ll want to be a part of
The ride on April 30 starts in St-Tropez around 8 am, and finishes at Stars’n’Bars in Monaco, give or take, 9 hours later. The entry fee is €1,000, of which €700 goes to the Foundation directly, while the rest covers the annual kit, insurance, and a one-year membership with Monaco Cycling Club. It also includes mechanical backup plus water and energy supplies along the route. Brunch at the half-way point, which this year will be at a spectacular penthouse apartment at a John Caudwell development, is also part of the deal. As is the post-cycle street party at Slammers Pub (6 Rue Suffren Reymond) with a barbeque and live music that will go on for most of the night (Monday is a bank holiday!).
For those not racing, you can buy tickets from Terry at Slammers for €75 – which covers the party and a donation to the Foundation. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor or securing a place on next year’s COCC’s iconic cycling shirts, should see the sponsors’ page.
A Monaco charity that makes a difference worldwide
Monies raised from this year’s COCC charity cycle will go towards a first aid and CPR training complex in Loumbila, Burkina Faso, a joint project with the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, the Monaco Red Cross and the Burkinabe Red Cross. The facility will include an Aquatic Rescue Center, as financed by the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, to allow the training of “rescuers and lifeguards from Burkina Faso and other countries in the region”. Director of Aquatic Rescue Center of Monaco, Pierre Frolla, an ambassador to the Foundation, as well as four-time freediving world record holder, will oversee the development.
The mission will include a water-safety programme and swimming lessons available to the thousand local high school students, many of whom have never had an opportunity to be in a pool, but are often at risk of drowning during floods.
This is the first time I’m trying to raise money for a cause through a sport event, and I’m a little nervous. I’ve always been in awe of people like Monaco-based Ben Rolfe, who, since learning of his young daughter’s diabetes diagnosis a few years ago, has been tackling endurance races to raise money for Diabetes UK. He sets up his own Justgiving page and gets the word out about what he’s doing (which at the moment, is racing the Marathon des Sables with his 17-year-old daughter). I’m not that organised, so for my first fundraising go it’s easier to piggyback off COCC’s donation’s page.
I’ve set a goal of €1,000, which will go towards the Burkinabe Red Cross and the Aquatic Rescue Center, and donations can be made online.
For those who think that Monaco is only full of rich people, in addition to the 38,000 residents, there are 55,000 people who work in the Principality. We are not all rich with deep pockets. We are a regular community, united by sport for a good cause. It just happens to be in Monaco, with its “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” lifestyle.
Article first published March 9, 2017. Feature image: Ed Wright Images.