Since I first threw the songo.info jersey over my shoulders at the 2009 Absa Cape Epic, I’ve been in love with the program.
Back then, on a whim, I got hold of MTB World Champion Christoph Sauser and asked him whether he’d be interested in having amateur riders tackle the prestigious multi-stage mountain bike race in the same team as the charity he’d recently set up – www.songo.info
To my surprise he said yes. And my brother, Simon, and I raced the Epic in the shadow of Burry Stander and Christoph. Actually, we weren’t in their shadow… they were back at the team tent long before we crossed the finish line each day. But in donning those rainbow-striped jerseys we joined a family of people dedicated to realising the shared dream of Songo Fipaza and Christoph – offering township kids in their beloved Kayamandi more choices in life.
Just the other day a family member of one of the dearest members of our tight-knit team fell ill. She was thousands of miles away, raising her own family in the Eastern Cape, and a proud teacher in the local school. She had been slowly starving herself as her condition worsened, but the local hospitals and clinics were unable to help. With limited resources the Eastern Cape is a long way from Cape Town. Even the access we enjoy to decent public medical care here is something to treasure. Her plight was a sudden reminder of the gulf that exists in this country.
A quiet plea for help to fly to Cape Town for meetings with a specialist doctor was met with such overwhelming love and support it gave me goosebumps. It wasn’t a public fundraising campaign, and the sponsors of the songo.info program who donated so quickly and generously will likely get no media exposure from it. But what emerged was a priceless network of committed friends of the songo.info program. People who are prepared to stand up when they are needed.
To meet Songo Fipaza himself is to stare humility and subtle power in the eye. Songo is a doer. Not a talker. It’s an important distinction to make in a world filled with noise. Armed with his compelling vision he leads people. Bravely and willfully.
When I was asked to be a trustee in early 2011. I jumped at the chance. For purely selfish reasons, mind you. I just get such a kick out of spending time with the young aspiring athletes from Kayamandi. And I get to hang out with people like Songo, Christoph and the person who holds it all together, Angelique Tostee.
My life couldn’t be more different from the lives the kids of the songo.info program, and yet we live just half an hour’s drive from each other. To begin to understand some of the challenges these guys and girls face on a daily basis is truly humbling. To shed these worldly worries, and share our love of mountain biking in the beautiful hills around Stellenbosch is one of the greatest gifts they offer me.
I’m told by Songo that the boys have learned a lot from me about riding and preparing for multi-stage races. He says they relish the rides we’ve done together. But it still feels selfish, glowing with pride as I watch these guys improve their bike skills, start to understand nutrition and grapple with bike mechanics. Songo speaks often of the barriers that are broken down through a shared passion for sport. I am finally starting to see what he’s talking about…
This year I am again proudly wearing the songo.info jersey as I tackle my sixth Absa Cape Epic. But it’s a little different this year. I won’t be riding with the usual suspect, my brother. For the record, it’s Simon who has abandoned me… for a snowboard and a girlfriend in Canada. Can’t say I blame him!
My partner for the 2012 Absa Cape Epic is Carl Pasio. Check out his blog for some insight into why I’m feeling slightly undergunned with just 40 days left to prepare.
More about him and our Road to the 2012 Absa Cape Epic soon…