Building mental strength

After nearly drowning at the age of three, Ronan Wantenaar put on his swimming goggles and never looked back

23 July 2019 | Youth

Elizabeth Joseph

Ronan Wantenaar is an 11-time gold, five-time silver and seven-time bronze medallist.

He obtained these laurels on African soil in continental competitions and was also the 17-24 age group victor ludorum this year, when Namibia hosted the CANA Zone IV Swimming Championships.

After nearly drowning at the age of three, Wantenaar put on his swimming goggles and never looked back.

“I jumped into the pool when I was about three, without any swimming aids because I thought, ‘what could be so difficult’. I nearly drowned. I started with a pollyotter and was determined to swim on my own. Soon the pollyotter was passed on to the next eager toddler,” he explained.

It was only at the age of 10 that Wantenaar started competing in the big leagues. He won a bronze medal at his first short course nationals and wanted more.

“I acquired a lot more and realised that records looked achievable and that was my next goal. I soon broke my first age group record,” he added.


So how does he ensure that his skills remain sharpened, will being in his final year of high school? His recipe is simple: Training. “Training and more training. My coach, Ryan Skinner, is also my mentor. Besides physical strength you need to be mentally strong. Mental strength is built whilst in the water. I hardly miss training, only in very exceptional circumstances. My training is tailored for specific galas, preferably months apart, to adequately build up strength and speed,” he said.

Achievements and challenges

Since the age of 10, Wantenaar has won many medals and broke many age group records. As a youngster, these are great achievements, he says, but once you get older you focus on FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) points and open records.

“I have competed locally at the Namibian long and short course championships since 2013 and have received 150 medals (98 gold, 34 silver and 18 bronze), all together.”

He won his first junior victor ludorum title in 2013 and he also currently holds the long course senior victor ludorum title for 2019.

In 2018 he was the short course senior victor ludorum. “I have received 33 floating trophies since 2016 at the long course nationals for achieving the highest FINA points in single events,” he proudly says.

Apart from competing locally, Wantenaar has also participated in South Africa at SA-level galas, representing his club, Namib Swimming Academy (NSA), since 2013 and winning a total of 23 medals (five gold, 11 silver and seven bronze).

It’s no secret that grade 12 is no walk in the park. Wantenaar says he needs to balance school, his management responsibilities and swimming and that can be challenging.

“Luckily I don’t stress easily and that helps me to find that balance,” he adds.

National colours

Wantenaar has travelled to other African countries such as Mauritius and Zimbabwe (CANA Zone IV Swimming Championships), Angola (African Union Sport Region 5), Egypt (African Junior Championships and Algeria (African Youth Games).

He also represented Namibia at the FINA long course championships held in Budapest, Hungary in 2017 when he was just 16, where he competed against the world’s best swimmers.

He travelled to Hangzhou, China in December last year to represent Namibia at the FINA short course championships and again competed against the world’s best swimmers.


“I am the current record holder of the following 17-18 age group and open men’s records in both the long and short courses:

50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke, 50m and 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley,” he said.

Future plans

Like any other athlete, it is his dream to qualify for the Olympics. “I do not plan on studying immediately after high school. I am hopeful for a scholarship abroad to pursue swimming full-time, at least for a year or two. Swimming careers don’t often continue beyond 30, so I would like to study. I am interested in engineering and I want to pursue something in that field,” Wantenaar adds.

His hobbies and inspirations include angling and hunting when he has an off weekend.

When asked whether he would consider pursuing a career in swimming, he said: “Definitely. Next year will determine that. I am still improving on my times and that keeps me positive, and if school is not an obstacle next year, I can focus on swimming alone and see whether I can meet certain FINA requirement in terms of points. At this stage the higher the FINA points, the better.

“Swimming is hard work, many hours of training and staying focused, but it’s satisfying to see the results and I am passionate about swimming.

“My advice to young people is to never give up; if you can dream it, you can do it. Every race is against your own time. As long as you can beat your own time, you are still in the race,” he said.

Fact box

· His name Ronan means “little seal” and seals love water.

· He attends St Paul’s College.

· He plays the guitar as well as games during his free time.

· He is a member of the student management council as well as deputy head boy.

· He started competing at the age of 10.

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