Inspiring SA Newcomers To Para-cycling

While a World Cup race attracts the best in the world to compete against each other for medals and UCI points, hosting the fourth round of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Pietermaritzburg has offered keen South African Para-cyclists the chance to test themselves against the elite in their fields.  Considered fledglings to the sport of handcycle racing, Simon Makgobela and Palesa Manaleng are two such local riders relishing the opportunity to test their abilities against their peers come the weekend of 11-13 September in KwaZulu-Natal.  Makgobela’s life changed in 2002. 

As an aspiring street dancer, he was on the brink of joining the competitive side of dancing when he had a terrible accident, which resulted in him losing both his legs.  The young man from Munsieville in Krugersdorp is lucky to be alive.  While trying to disembark a train to Krugersdorp, which was about to set off, his jacket got caught in the closing doors of the train as it started moving and while he tried to free himself, he eventually lost his balance and footing and fell out of the moving train and was drawn underneath it.

He says:  ‘At that moment, I lost everything and had to start my life again from scratch.  I would use a normal wheelchair to get around and started racing myself on it.’  The 29-year old has been riding a hand cycle since 2012 when esteemed cyclist Hilary Lewis introduced him to the sport.  Lewis, who has represented South Africa on many occasions, explained how the hand cycle worked and Makgobela’s interest grew even more when Andries Scheepers lent him a bike.

Makgobela says:  ‘I competed in a TT event in Joburg and I really liked it.  Instead of doing three laps, I just kept on going because I was having so much fun.  I was trying very hard to follow Andries, and I have been training hard to ride faster.’  Earlier this year, Makgobela was entered into rounds one and two of the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Italy and Switzerland, and he was generously supported by grant funding received from the Department of Sport and Recreation.  This process of developing Makgobela is being facilitated by Cycling South Africa.

Cycling SA Para-Cycling Commission Director Dr Mike Burns says:  ‘I’m ready for the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg but I’m not as strong as the others. It will take me time to get there and I’m doing very well – I’m trying my best.  The investment in Simon by Sport and Recreation South Africa has paid huge dividends in terms of fast-tracking the development and competitive ability of this talented rider.  It was rewarding to note the respect that was afforded him by the international community of riders with whom he recently engaged in Italy and Switzerland.  Simon will be returning to the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport to complete the high performance programme that has been developed for him.’  Makgobela’s message to those who are in a similar situation to him is simple.  He says:  ‘You must not say that it’s the end of the road.  Be strong, God is in you and you are still a human being.  You can do anything that you put your mind to.’

An even newer kid on the block, Manaleng encountered a life changing experience when the brakes on her bicycle failed, forcing her to ride into a pavement at quite a high speed.  The crash resulted in a punctured lung, two broken ribs, hitting her head hard, but it was the dislocated spine that caused the most damage.  As a paraplegic, Manaleng mobilises herself with only her arms. 
She says:  ‘It was almost a year ago to the date.  I loved cycling and loved testing my endurance.  I played all sorts of sports, like hockey, weight lifting and soccer.  I really love it.’  Manaleng is feeling great excitement in taking part in her first World Cup this coming weekend, saying:  ‘I’m terrified, but excited.  I love the feeling that being on a bike brings me.  I feel like I’ve got my freedom back and that I have no obstacles at all.  I saw the 947 Cycle Challenge on TV one day while I was in rehab.  I wanted to cycle and my physiotherapist showed me pictures of Pieter Du Preez and I knew that I wanted to do this.  I think I pestered him quite a bit, but he was so helpful and accommodating.  I also called Hilary and she invited me to try out her handcycle and helped me with the setup.’

Primedia currently assists the 28-year-old in collecting her from her home and taking her to a place to ride on one day each week in Gauteng.  When asked what keeps her motivated, Manaleng said:  ‘Being alive, and doing what I love doing.’  The 2015 UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup – Pietermaritzburg (11-13 September 2015) will have two competition venues with the time trial competition being staged in the Midmar Dam complex on Friday 11 September and the road races in the city of Pietermaritzburg using Alexandra Park as the official competition venue on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September
Photo credit: Illse Du Preez