The following story of Dutch rider Jean Biermans sounds almost unbelievable, but is one hundred percent true. Jean will be back this year to conquer the 36ONE MTB Challenge in and around Oudtshoorn, after a disappointing outing in 2016 when illness forced him to withdraw halfway through the race.
It all started way back in 1991 when Jean, on his way to work, was hit by a bus and dragged for more than 15 meters – leaving the lower part of his left leg torn off, resulting in a very close call to amputate his leg.
“It took the doctors three operations in which they eventually managed to repair my leg. This was no easy task because every muscle and tendon around my knee was ripped off completely and the skin and most of the muscles were gone. The surgeons took skin from my upper legs on both sides to reconstruct new skin over my lower leg.”
Following multiple rounds of reconstructive surgery, the 17-year old Jean had to learn to walk again. It took nearly two years of practice and physical therapy before he was able to walk without crutches. As part of his rehabilitation process Jean spent most of his time in the gym to strengthen his leg muscles, but then, after 4 years he desired to engage in something else.
He took up mountain biking for fun, and it wasn’t long until he was cycling with a group of riders on Sundays who encouraged him to give competitive racing a try. In his first race Jean, whose nickname is Jeankie Powerrr, was lapped three times within a one hour race, but needless to say: Jean always finished that which he started, and persevered – just as he had done in his recovery from the accident.
His results continually improved in mountain bike events and after a great year with some good results he was invited to race for Bakker Racing Team. Jean did well, and finished second in the Dutch Bike Marathon Champs in 2007; thereafter, 16th in the European Master Champs, followed by a 23rd position at the World Championships. Jean started to focus more on endurance riding and 24 hour races.
“Cycling gives me great satisfaction in my quest to show the world that anything is possible, despite having a disability.” Despite his clearly visible disability, Jean has been completely accepted in the European mountain bike community, and everyone holds him in the highest regard because of his incredible achievements.
Jean decided to take on the 360NE challenge after a conversation with an Instagram friend, Rob Neethling. Jean seemed interested in the 36ONE Challenge as it was a 361 Km endurance race. He entered the race for the first time in 2014 and won the challenge – not knowing South Africa and its people, but with the help of the Neethling-family, who treated him like a son, it made him feel at home. In 2015 Jean was back to defend his title. It goes without saying, as the defending champion, that Jean Biermans knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he signed up to defend his 2014 crown.
Jean put in as much as 12 500km of training in under 6 months leading up to the race. Jean’s motivation to succeed no matter what the challenges may be, continued his training throughout the northern hemisphere winter. He shattered his own course record to win the fourth edition of the 36ONE MTB Challenge, an ultra-distance mountain bike race, and clocked a time of 14 hours 03 minutes 57 seconds for the non-stop 361km race, slicing more than 11 minutes off his 2014 winning ascent – a new course record.
Jean was back to defend his record in 2016, but had to withdrew on the 180km mark due to illness. His 2015 record is still standing, and he will be back on 21 April 2017 to conquer the course once again. Other races in which Jean participated in South Africa, includes The Cape Pioneer Trek, a race which he had to withdraw from, because of severe hypothermia.
“I would like thank my South African friends – I see them as my family, Rob and his family and Gus Pauw. Also a huge thanks for the support from my South African nutrition sponsor 32GI, and thanks to all my South African fans and people that follow me from a Continent that stole my heart.”
Into Cycling wishes Jean Biermans all the best for the 36ONE Challenge – Keep on motivating and inspiring your fans in South Africa!