28 May 2024 | Story André Damons | Photo Supplied
‘Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer Team
The ‘Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer Team achieved their goal to complete the highest altitude swim ever recorded at an altitude of 6 405 meters on Mount Putha Hiunchuli in the Himalayas. The Adolescent Cancer Unit at the University of the Free State (UFS) is one of the team’s selected charities.

A donation from the ‘Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer Team, which recently broke the record for the highest-altitude swim, will help the Oncology department from the University of the Free State (UFS) realise its dream of establishing a much-needed Adolescent Cancer Unit at the Universitas Academic Hospital.

The new Adolescent Cancer Unit, which is in the process of being developed, will be housed within the Oncology Universitas Annex Department of the Universitas Academic Hospital.  This unit, together with the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, were nominated as charities to benefit from the ‘Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer Team’s remarkable efforts.

Earlier this month, this team achieved their ambitious goal to complete the highest altitude swim ever recorded at an altitude of 6 405 meters on Mount Putha Hiunchuli in the Himalayas. They surpassed the previous record of 6 370 meters set by Australian Dan Bull in the Andes mountains in South America. The team consisted of Jean Craven, expedition leader and founder of Madswimmer, Deniz Kayadelen, Vanes-Mari du Toit, Neo Mokuene, Chiara Baars, team doctor, Sean Disney, Himalaya Tour leader, and Thufayl Ali, cameraman.

Specialised care for teenagers

Prof Alicia Sherriff, Head of the UFS Department of Oncology and a clinical oncologist, says the Madswimmers team is a selfless group from diverse backgrounds who have been putting themselves at risk to assist and support causes over time. “We are so privileged and honoured that they have decided our adolescent unit for cancer patients is worthy of this amazing effort. We are grateful and we know that the unit will serve the community of the Free State and broader nationally,” says Prof Sherriff.

She indicated that the Adolescent Cancer Unit will have a dedicated recreational and educational room for the adolescents and single rooms equipped to also accommodate a parent to stay with the adolescent. The teenagers are under normal circumstances in emotional turmoil and now they are confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis which creates further uncertainty and distance between them and their healthy counterparts.

“The Oncology unit focuses on providing specialised care for teenagers battling cancer and expanding the service with a specialised unit is a crucial part of the hospital’s mission to offer a supportive and comfortable environment for young patients and their families. Donations help to fund renovations, create a lounge and entertainment area, and ensure that teenagers facing cancer receive the best possible care during their fight.

“We are thankful that the Madswimmer team are safe and healthy and that their caring nature and selfless venture will make it possible for this dream to become a reality if our colleagues and the community could contribute to the funding platform,” says Prof Sherriff.


This donation from the Madswimmers comes after Prof Sherriff’s colleague, Prof Anton van Aswegen, Head of the UFS Department of Neurosurgery, has been reaching out to colleagues, contacts, and influential people with motivation letters for donations.

They have already identified two rooms in the wards to transform. The recreational and education area has also been identified, but also needs to be renovated and equipped. Prof Sherriff says: “We were once again reminded of the need for this unit during this past year where we constantly had two to three teenagers in our adult wards who started to become friends. They were spread throughout our four wards and did not have a space where they could get together and where they were not surrounded by adult patients.

“One of our specialists has an adolescent patient who required drugs that are not available in the public sector and required us to partner with private groups to support the teenager. Together with Prof van Aswegen from Neurosurgery we co-manage many of these adolescents and the decision was made that they need a space where their needs can be addressed. Prof van Aswegen is an excellent marketer.”

Prof Sherriff says they registered the entity for the Adolescent unit in March 2024 and have received a Smart TV from Kloppers and Bloemcare made a cash donation. They are, however, anticipating the contribution from the Madswimmers to help them realise this dream. She urges people to please contribute to the fund of the Madswimmers. It is also possible to contribute directly to the project beyond this drive via the university entity.

Breaking the record

Jean Craven noted in a press release: “The last accessible liquid (swimmable) water was found at 4 900 meters. To achieve a world record, we needed to venture higher and create a suitable swimming environment at 6 405 meters. We carved out a swimming hole in the ice and melted ice in large drums that preserved the liquid water overnight. The swimming hole was covered with a canvas tent to prevent refreezing at night. The next morning, we removed the canvas, filled the ice hole with the liquid water we had preserved, and took turns swimming in it for about three minutes each, wearing Speedos only. The water was chillingly cold at 3.7 degrees Celsius, with the outside temperature at minus six.”

Donation Options:

People who wish to make donations can do so with the following options: 

1. In-Kind Donations:

If you wish to donate goods or services (such as medical equipment, furnishings, or educational materials), please let us know. Your generosity will directly impact the unit’s functionality.

2. Financial Contributions:

To make a financial contribution, please use the payment reference: “Adolescent Oncology Unit.”

Account Details:
Bank: ABSA Bank
Account Name: University of the Free State Donations
Account Number: 1570850721 (Cheque Account)
Branch Code: 334134

As a registered nonprofit organisation, we issue Section 18A certificates, which allow donors to claim tax benefits.

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