A team of Stellenbosch University (SU) medical students embarked during the week of 1 – 8 December 2018, on an ambitious 902km cycle tour from Vioolsdrift at the Namibian border to Cape Agulhas, the most Southern tip of Africa, to raise funds to be dedicated to fellow medical students in need of financial assistance.
“I was in awe when I realized that he would become a healer within the next few years. This kid could be a local doctor, the next big surgeon, he could be saving lives, he could do ground-breaking research. Regardless of where he goes, he would be contributing to the health of our country for the following 50 years. It was this knowledge that moved me and 4 others students to take on 902 kilometres on bicycles, when we found out that some of our peers were experiencing financial exclusion, that hindered this critical stage of development,” – an epiphany Breda Reed, a medical student had one evening, as he sat across his roommate in residence at the University of Stellenbosch.
South Africa has moved to a position where a bigger population of young people, from a more diverse background, have the opportunity to attain a tertiary education in many cases, by bursaries and funds. These funding schemes are limited to covering accommodation, tuition, text books and food allowances. What happens to other personal needs, outside these parameters? It is often the case that students cover basic needs like toiletries, data, transport, and even healthcare costs from their food allowances – meaning that they might not be able to sustain a healthy, balanced lifestyle outside of their academics, and can’t maintain a healthy diet either.
How did amateur cyclists covered a distance of 902km over 8 days?
Breda Reed, Mias Marais, Luke Titus, and Christoff Greyling – all students in medicine and Wonderboy Nkosi, a student in dietetics felt responsible to find a solution for the needs of their fellow students. Except for one of the riders that took part in the half Ironman once, none of the other students had any cycling experience, nor had any cycling skills.
Three of the five cyclists started spinning classes in March which continued until November 2018 as they had no bicycles of their own to train on. Wonderboy and Luke joined them in October when they got onto bikes for the first time. – spinning at 6 in the morning, doing 25km trips twice a week before their first 60km trip on 3 November. “We were training on old ‘verjaarsdag winkel fietse’ with takkies, t-shirts and one red light at around 4 in the morning. Many experienced cyclists quite bluntly expressed their disbelief in our preparation and ability,” Breda said. Prior to the commencement of their journey, they sourced mountain bikes for their trip.
After the second year medical students finished their last exam on 30 November they were ready to go, but some car admin held them back and they only arrived at the border at 02h30 on the 1st of December and started their cycling journey of 118km to Springbok without any sleep, spending around 7 hours on their bicycles at an average speed of 19km/h with long breaks in between – to enjoy the scenery without rushing off to the next destination.
On day one they covered a distance of 118km to Springbok, day two 114km to Garies, day three 145km to Vanrhynsdorp, day four 144km to Citrusdal, day five 104km to Malmesbury and day six 60km to Tygerberg with an average sleeping time of 2 hours and 50 minutes per day, not counting the naps. Day 7 was a rainy day that offered the students some sleep – meaning day seven moved up one day. On day 7 they met with the Rector of the Stellenbosch University who cycled with them to Franschhoek and continued to Caledon covering 125km. On the final day they set off to Cape Agulhas. “We were blessed with what we will claim to be the most beautiful sight we ever saw and will see: the sunrise over the “ruêns” of the Overberg. Golden grass fields over rolling hills with blue mountains surrounding. We allowed this sight to burn into our memories as we glided along a downhill that we all wished would never end.”
It was a moment to big to be captured by a camera as they arrived in Agulhas. “We were tired, burnt, and to be honest, a bit overwhelmed. Yet deep within, we felt invincible. Our team went through tough sacrifices, each with our own battle over the past months. That was our victory moment. Behind 7 smiling faces there were tears, outbursts of jubilations, cries for rest, winces of pain, memories of hardship and triumph, there was deep love and brotherhood, there was an intense awareness of God’s provision and our dependency on Him.”
“We are a group of amateur cyclists. None with more than a month’s experience. On day 2 we found out that Wonderboy climbed on a bicycle for the first time in his life when he started training with us – another point of proof for the cause that burns in our hearts,” Breda explains.
“We are medical students by trait, not cyclists. We trained hard on stationary bikes. For the first time, on the 1st of December we put cleats on. We cycled 920km, in blazing heat, with less than 3 hours of sleep a night, and with no special eating plan, just Rehidrat, dried fruit, jungle bars, potatoes and coke. We love each other and were unwilling to let our team mates, and even more, our peers, down. In the end I believe what carried us was our cause – keeping all our cylinders firing, against all odds.”
“Financial exclusion is a reality. One that reminds us of the past, one that keeps the past alive. Cycling brought students from different backgrounds together and offered us a platform for reconciliation. We dream of having 50 or more students, representing all backgrounds and genders, cycling together to break a barrier that influences us all,” Breda continues.
A message to cyclists: “You have amazing power at your fingertips. Power to explore the creation like no other can, power to do good, power to build relationships and dare I say; you can use it to empower a group of students to make the impossible possible. You are capable of more than you can imagine, especially physically. There is more to cycling than gold medals and a shot of endorphin. There is so much more. We hope you can find it in the same way we have.”
“The cycling trip is an incentive that we will offer to current healthcare professionals, and any other citizen of this country that feels moved to unite in this cause, to invest in future healthcare professionals, by donating towards The Hippocampus Fund.”