Archive for October 2010
KWANDA , MART & LUCAS – day 1Not often you get to do something that is just phenomenal and yet by your mere taking part in that something, you are having a positive impact on Society in SA. This ‘something’ that I am referring to, is the recent ‘Change a life’ Cycle tour in Malawi.
To make the cut onto the short list, you have to bypass the steel gates, guarded vidulently by Tour Director (TD), Ursula du Plooy. A license to ride is only on offer to the cream of the SA Corporate World and even then you are not an assured stakeholder. However, the TD is human and when her guard dropped, some ‘rats & mice’ slipped through the cracks in the form of myself, Malcolm Lange, Owen Hannie & Gerald de Kock
The Route Master, Jonathan Scott would never allow the ride to be a ‘chip & a putt’ and if he did, I think all would be highly disappointed. Yes, riding along the Lake is horizontal but the sting in the tail came in the last 7km of the 500km’s cycled. For those who did not know what their max heart rate was, soon found out, as we ascended skywards to the top of Zomba Plateau – 700m vertical gain over 7km – lovely.
The ‘Change a life’ Cycle Tour is where the ‘bread & butter’ funding is generated to fund my ‘Change a life’ Academy in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, along with generous contributions from USN and Hi-Tec. Five of my ‘Change a life’ athletes were invited to come along as support crew. Forget Malawi, hanging out with Miss SA, what else could be important…. Flying for the first time scared the hell out of them. Before we took off, not thinking I said to Tom, “If the plane goes down, you won’t feel a thing….”
And to their utter disbelief, Kwanda (sponsored by Tracker – CEO Alan Hutchinson) and Lucas (thanks to Peter Koopman) actually participated, experiencing the ‘Red Carpet’ treatment firsthand. During the ride, at one of the rural food stops in the middle of nowhere, support crew Eric (3rd in Dusi) says to me, “Mart, the kids, they fight for the water bottles here.” He continues, “the crazy thing is, there is nothing in the water bottles and they still fight for it.”
And so their eyes were opened to a whole new world, where hardship doubled and opportunity halved. They realised the majority of this super friendly nation’s focus, is spent surviving. Four days later, upon our return to the Valley of a Thousand Hills, Lucas says to me, “Mart, we have it good here.” This coming from a person who lives in an area where there is no electricity and water needs to be collected a kilometer away.
The legs were now nicely warmed up, having cycled the 120km Computershare Day 1 and then The Kelly Group 190km Day 2. A momentary lapse in concentration and lack of communication from the ‘herd’, saw my front wheel disappear into a crater, resulting in a spectacularme cart wheel over the handle bars – buying myself a proper piece of Malawi.
That night, celebrating The TD’s birthday, we got the race briefing for the much anticipated ‘Sun International Amazing Race’ for the following day. Run a 100m, dig and find your personal drum buried in the sand, time trial cycle 18km out and 18km back, collect an ambulance bike and proceed on a 5km marked course, stopping to deliver 20 packets of goodies to a School teacher enroute, paddle 200m in a local Dug-out Canoe, run up the beach through the ‘Change a life’ Arch, to stop the clock.
Then it was partnership selections, where the so-called bottom half (Hares and Tortoises) chose out a hat, a partner from the top half (Racing Snakes and Jackals). Phillip Shapiro drew my name, sealing the partnership with a handshake I instinctively knew that we wouldn’t go down without a fight – ‘all guns blazing’ was the plan of attack and deal with the consequences later….
The concept of the Ambulance bike seemed so foreign to us, the novelty experience of riding them would be fun & games, yet the brutal reality of this simplistic machine, was that it is the life-line of a means of getting the needy to hospital. The value placed on the local communities receiving these ambulance bicycles was illustrated in the arrival of the Minister of Tourism for dinner that night, who thanked the ‘Change of Life’ Cyclists for their incredible contribution to the community by the upliftment of the transport to get the pregnant Mothers, elderly and the sickly to the local Clinics or hospitals – thus saving lives.
Minutes before the race; CEO of Computershare, Stan Lorge says, “David, we need these guys to race for something, how about a weekend away at your Livingstone Hotel in Zambia?” CEO Sun International, David Coutts-Trotter didn’t hesitate, “no problem, great idea.” Such was the no-fuss make a plan atmosphere of the entire Tour.
Lining up on the start line, I was excited for these top Execs to be experiencing something out of the ordinary - I couldn’t help thinking “Welcome to my World”. A world where ‘curve balls’ were the norm, uncertainty around every corner and adversity the breakfast of Champions. Actually come to think of it, that applies to their world too. To rephrase: “Welcome to my World” – grovelly soft sand, Ambulance bikes that weren’t racing machines, that went faster when you pushed them.
GO! – Mad dash to the drum den – a good strategy was not to dig at all but to observe, then check all drums found, to see if it was yours. In that way you weren’t limiting your chances of success. Phillip found our drum just in time to make the 8 strong breakaway group on the bike. Having turned at the 18km mark, I could feel the peloton, lead by Malcolm Lange, hunting us down. 5km’s before the Ambulance Bike transition, our pack split, leaving just one other team alongside us – Racing Snake Brett and Jackal Nigel. Phillip charged down the runway on the Ambulance Bike like there was no tomorrow, with me running alongside him.
Then we turned into the Village to locate a ‘School’ and there awaited the soft sand – perfect – making it impossible to ride. I was jolted back to reality, upon reaching the ‘School’, where we must hand out packets of stationary/sweets to a teacher with twenty kids. Suddenly before us were 34 teachers, each with twenty kids, eagerly waiting in a perfect circle, hoping to receive our treats. Which group to go to….? The utter joy in their faces at this once in a life-time present was priceless. Although a mere ‘drop in the ocean’, I thought what we doing here today is good. I wish I had stayed a little longer to witness the next group of kid’s faces upon receiving the treats from the team behind us. But this was a race and the clock was ticking. Afterwards I thought, isn’t life always a race….
With the chain repeatedly coming off and Phillip’s calves misbehaving, it was best for me to push and Phillip to assume the position of a pregnant Mother on the stretcher part of the Ambulance Bike. With the temperature gauge soaring, admittedly this was the toughest part of the Amazing Race. But before one could lose ones sense of humour, we arrived alongside the lake, to a paddling experience extradinaire. I was excited to finally get to perform my speciality discipline, but these were no ordinary canoes. As a precaution, I chose the fattest, biggest Dugout for stability. And soon we were all aboard, paddling delicately along this Mauritius-like shoreline. Looking back, there were two teams also on the water. David Bellairs (Cycling SA CEO) & Mthunzi were making good progress, whilst behind them, Malcolm and Enzo were like a comedy act, finding the point of equilibrium impossible. And so, ‘thinking out the box’, Malcolm pushed their ship along waist deep, with Enzo getting a free ride. This sneaky manoeuvre saw them overtaking 2nd place only to find out later that they were disqualified for bending the rules. Crossing the finish line first with Phillip was a relief. I think the verbal abuse I would’ve had to endure if that had not been the case would have been endless – like ‘drip torture’. Thanks Phillip for an unforgettable experience. Never before have I paddled at 3km/hr and won a race. Thanks too David for a lekker prize.
Lazing around later that day, recently retired CEO of Nedbank, Tom Boardman invited a few of us to join him on a boat cruise out to Bird Island to do some snorkelling and feed the 200 plus Fish Eagle colony….
An incredible spin-off from this ‘Change a life’ tour is the company Rentworks building two fully equipped computer labs at the Schools in the Valley where my Dusi Zulus attend. CEO Mike Chapman promises there will be more…. Thanks too Mike for kindly sponsoring my entry.
The JSE Day 3 Zomba plateau climb was a perfect Finish setting to a phenomenal Cycle Tour. For most, mental barriers were broken and physical limits were redefined.
A big thanks must go to Susan Dreyer and her incredible support team.