At the Institute for the Blind, nestled in the picturesque, mountain surrounded town of Worcester (also known as the ‘Care Capital of SA’), the visually impaired face Everest challenges daily. They need to live and survive in a world custom-made for people with five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste – the first being the most important.
The organisation, providing 137 years of service and care, has reached stormy waters and has to navigate these challenges with skill. They appointed Turnaround Specialist, Albie Heigers, as CEO to chart a new path and guide them to long-term sustainability.
When Absa offered them the opportunity to participate in the 15th edition of the Absa Cape Epic from 18 to 25 March, as a means to raise funds, Heigers was challenged to either talk or ride. Without giving it a second thought, he was up to the challenge to ride 658 kilometers over 8 days, with riders climbing 13 530 meters of hills and mountains.
Born and raised in Pretoria, Heigers (57) started mountain biking around 14 years ago and has already completed three editions of this demanding race. He is a proud member of the Amabubesi Finisher Club, an exclusive loyalty programme for the tough breed of riders who tackle and complete the Absa Cape Epic three times or more.
“Being able to represent and generate funds for the visually impaired and others under our care is a huge privilege and responsibility, as these people actually face enormous challenges daily. Worcester is one of the stopover towns for this year’s race, so we have the whole town cheering us on, willing us to succeed. Absa created a platform to combine the challenges faced by those under our care, with the best in mountain-biking. Can you ask for more?”
The Absa Cape Epic must be completed by both members of a two-person team with only 650 teams allowed to ride the race. Heigers will be joined by Marius Strydom, owner of GEARONLINE Cycle, in Worcester. Strydom (45) has spent his whole life in Worcester. “I only started cycling about six years ago and love the sport. I’m so excited to finally take on the Absa Cape Epic, and it’s for a worthy cause to boot. The opportunity came at the last minute, so I’ve been trying to keep my fitness up. I’ve become smarter with my training programme and learnt from my mistakes, especially in the beginning when I completely ignored recovery and nutrition as essential parts of training. I’m going to do my best to enjoy it as much as possible.” He has already completed races such as the Wines2Whales, Jock Cycle Tour, Tour of Good Hope and Trans Baviaans.
Heigers adds that training for the Absa Cape Epic takes about six months. “I did a lot less this year, so hope I’ve done enough. Worcester has beautiful and very tough mountain bike trials which provides excellent training. This race is designed to challenge you in every way possible, so you have to be mentally strong as well!”
Heigers explains that by the time you cross the finish line on the last day, you are generally very tired, but very pleased. “My toughest Absa Cape Epic was in 2008. It was the longest race ever, at 996 kilometers over 9 days. It was also the last time the event was held from Knysna to Stellenbosch – the route then changed and moved closer to Cape Town. The real joy of finishing comes afterwards when you realise what you’ve achieved.”
According to John Tshabalala, Managing Executive of Absa in the Western Cape, they are delighted to have the opportunity to provide this platform to support the Institute for the Blind’s fundraising efforts. “We have enjoyed a long association with the Institute, having been their banker since 1965. Our continued support for the Institute, including the establishment of the Technology Centre, is in line with the bank’s Shared Growth vision, through which it aims to use its assets and resources to grow and develop the societies wherein the bank operates. And in this case, we are assisting visually impaired persons to achieve their ambitions. It is our belief that when the communities where we live and work thrive, we do too. And when society prospers, we all do,” he explains.
Riding as Team for the Blind, Heigers and Strydom aim to raise as much funds as possible. “We urge the general public to support us in our quest. Become an Epic ‘participant’ by donating to this worthy cause and making a real difference in the lives of others. Motivate our team by contributing per kilometer (or part thereof) – your contribution will be fully tax deductible. As Mark Twain famously wrote: ‘Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.’ Why not accept this challenge to make a meaningful difference to the quality of life of a visually impaired person?”
To support Team for the Blind and the Institute for the Blind, send an email to EPIC@InnovationForTheBlind.Org, or phone: 066 4555 960.