It is amazing to think that just 3 weeks ago the full 2017 Unogwaja Team from 4 different countries, met for the first time in Cape Town! All 23 team members (including 12 support crew members) were about to embark on a journey that would test their limits, form incredible friendships and challenge them to continue living the Unogwaja message of hope, love and togetherness!
Unogwaja is unique, it is special and it carries with it a responsibility to our country. Each Unogwaja team member that is selected, joins those that have carried the flag before them (now 54 in total) in continuing this legacy. Many lives are changed through Unogwaja, and we thank you for your continued support of both the individual team members, and the organisation as a whole.
In case you missed any of this year’s journey, below is a summary of the 2017 Challenge and what many of the team described as ‘the beginning of a new perspective on life’.
Day 0: A visit to the Unogwaja Langa Projects
Langa is the newest of the ‘Unogwaja Lights’ and we believe the model we are establishing, with the help and guidance of Mechi Artigue and her team, will become a blue print for impacting communities in the future. It was fitting that the first thing we did as a team was visit Langa and bring to life the work Unogwaja does on the ground. The team had time to interact with the St Antony’s pre primary children and sat in on the English lessons offered to these young children. We heard from the mothers who are now volunteers in the project, and the impact Unogwaja has had not only on their families’ lives, but on the greater community. We also visited the Langa Hockey Club where after school classes are held, before sharing a wonderful lunch at Le Lapa.
It was indeed a wonderful start to the 2017 Unogwaja Challenge which left the team inspired and excited.
Day 1: Cape Town- Robertson (205km)
Day 1 of any Unogwaja Challenge is filled with so many emotions! The 04h30 start at the Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel that is accompanied by the Rainbow Academy’s rendition of ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ and the National Anthem was joined by family, friends and around 40 cyclists who joined the team as far as Franschhoek. After saying their goodbyes in Franschhoek, the remainder of the ride into Robertson was focused on establishing team relationships and dynamics that would carry them to Pietermaritzburg.
Day 2: Robertson – Calitzdorp (215km)
Day 2 is an infamously tough day on any Unogwaja and the nerves were imminent over breakfast. The distance and mountainous terrain make the day long and difficult, and a push to get to Calitzdorp before dark. The Challenge that lies ahead over the next week becomes very real as the team really begins to work together and experience some of the dramatic South African landscape that pushes all limits. Lunch at the famous ‘Ronnie’s Sex Shop’ on the Route 62 ended emotionally as the team listened to an extremely inspirational message from Craig Wiseman (Unogwaja team 2015 & 2016). Two team members did not finish on their bikes that day, but the heart, spirit and determination of this team touched us all.
Day 3: Calitzdorp – Willowmore (200km)
The coldness of the Karoo winter greeted the team on Day 3, as did a magnificent sunrise as they made their way to a delicious hot breakfast at SPUR in Oudtshoorn. The team crossed the border into the Eastern Cape and although it was another tough day on the tiring bodies, the way the team worked together was incredible to witness. The finish of Day 3 was arguably the most emotional one as the team celebrated under a rainbow to the sound of Toto’s Africa. Barriers were broken on this day and a new self belief began to rise up in very rider. A hot fire, hearty karoo dinner and team bonding at The Willow was the perfect ending to Day 3.
Day 4: Willowmore – Graaff Reinet (180km)
Some typical Karoo flat road riding enabled the team to work hard and find a good rhythm as they made their way to a wonderful lunch prepared by the family at the Caltex in Aberdeen. The incredible spread of hot soup, roosterbrood and wors was the secret to getting through the afternoon in high spirits! The days of hotel and guest house stays were behind us as the team stayed in a boarding house at Union High in Graaff Reinet. Some of the guys joined the team in town and rode the last section back to the school with the team, which was a welcome surprise and made for a great reception. Our stay at Union High is always made meaningful as the team have the opportunity to share some of their stories with the boarders, and motivate and inspire these young learners to be great.
Day 5: Graaff Reinet – Cradock (140km)
Although a shorter day on paper, Day 5 is notorious for its big passes that would test each rider. Logistically it is the first of the more difficult days as the team ride past the overnight stay, and are driven back to the accommodation. Besides this, Day 5 is always special and meaningful as we spend the night at Vukasebenze Shelter in Cradock, another one of the Unogwaja Lights. This year was particularly emotional as we heard how the shelter was continuing to impact the community in the absence of their mother and father Gussie, and Baba Botha, who both passed away towards the end of 2016. It is these interactions and experiences that keep the riders’ legs pedaling every day… this journey is far bigger than a personal one.
Day 6: Cradock – Lady Frere (200km)
A different morning for the team as it began with a car trip and a start after dawn for the first time! It was also a day of treats as breakfast was served beside a huge fireplace at the Caltex in Tarkastad and lunch was a SPUR burger in Queenstown! The cycling day ended in the rural town of Lady Frere, where we first met Zephaniah back in 2015 when he displayed a remarkable act of kindness, goodwill and service to the team. When we see the heart of Unogwaja reflected back on us, it motivates every person. Zephaniah saw us this year again in Lady Frere and followed the convoy all the way back to Queens College just to say hi and shake the hands of the team!
Day 7: Lady Frere – Maclear (150km)
Day 7 took the team through the heart of the Eastern Cape and were greeted by many cheers as children made their way to school on foot. It is also known as ‘Wacky Wednesday’ so a little bit of dress up was on the cards! We made a stop at BB Mdeledle Primary School in Askeaton, a school that we are building a relationship with and see a future partnership. The reception was filled with joy and excitement as the children sang, danced and high-fived the riders! Making this connection is vital as the Unogwaja story continues to grow throughout South Africa and the team left the school in high spirits. The Maclear Country Club has become one of the favorite stop overs, with some of the locals joining in and ensuring a festive evening.
Day 8: Maclear – Kokstad (200km)
Day 8 and the team rode into KwaZulu Natal… and the thought of Comrades began to creep into the minds of everyone! The riding is challenging on this day and to many, one of the tougher days on the bike as little is said about it. The reception at St Patrick’s College in Kokstad was extremely welcomed and the local community really make an effort to look after us. This stop has fondly been named ‘Rockstad’ as we are treated to music from a band made up of young, enthusiastic musicians, most of whom are learners at St Patrick’s. The local cycling club provided drinks and joined the team for a hearty home cooked dinner. This evening was made even more special as each team member received letters from home, which the support crew had sourced from their family and friends!
Day 9: Kokstad – Richmond (150km)
Day 9. The Queen Stage. The mighty Umkomaas. The last big day before reaching Pietermaritzburg. It is an iconic day in any Unogwaja which is greeted with nervous anticipation. Unogwaja Alumni, friends and family make the effort to come and support at the top of the Umkomaas Pass and then greet the team upon arrival in Richmond. The town of Richmond truly embraced the team’s arrival at the Caltex this year, with a police escort and an address by the mayor. The long tough days in the saddle were now behind the team as the emotions took over and they celebrated with everyone around them. It wasn’t the end yet, but Pietermaritzburg was clearly in sight.
Day 10: Richmond – Pietermaritzburg (35km)
The penultimate day of the 2017 Unogwaja Challenge. Although a later start and a much shorter 35km cycle into Pietermaritzburg, the significance of this day is profound. The team completed the almost 1700km cycle from Cape Town and in so doing become an impenetrable team of 11 dynamic individuals with a shared vision and a whole lot of heart. This was truly celebrated upon arrival at the Carbineers Drill Hall at midday, to a large reception of people. 300 children joined us from Umsilinga Primary School, another one of our Unogwaja Lights, as well as family and friends who gathered to greet and celebrate with the team. Some dancing and singing followed before the police escorted procession to the Pietrmaritzburg City Hall commenced. Walking the streets of Pietermaritzburg hand in hand with those who carried this team, needed no caption. We were greeted at the City Hall by Biddy Irwin, the half sister of Phil Masterson-Smith, whose legacy the Unogwaja walk in. We were addressed by 2016 Unogwaja Team Captain and Trustee Nat Mabetwa, as well as by the local Chairperson for Economic Development.
It was then time to register and turn our attention towards the Comrades Marathon, where a Nando’s meal and stay at the Southern Sun Elangeni was a welcomed prelude.
Day 11: The Comrades Marathon (87km)
The Comrades Marathon will always be a historic and iconic event in South Africa, bringing together 20000 people from all walks of life every year. It tests the physical and mental limits of every person who stands on that start line. On this morning in Durban, 10 Unogwaja’s walked together as a team to the start line, focused on what lay ahead. It was a tough day and it didn’t go as planned for everyone, as injury, fatigue, heat and the effort of the previous 10 days took its toll. Did that matter? Definitely not. Did every single person succeed in giving themselves completely to the Unojwaja story? Absolutely.
We salute you Team Unogwaja 2017: Andrew, Miguel, Kenny, Piet, Kirsten, Jess, Andre (Zum Zum), Rosana, Clodis, Vikas and Cecilia!
A message from Unogwaja
“What this remarkable group of individuals achieved not only in the 11 days of Unogwaja, and the months leading up to it, cannot be quantified. It goes far beyond any medal or any accolade. To witness this team learn, grow and be true ambassadors of Unogwaja has been the greatest privilege for all that have been involved in this journey.
The 12 members of the Support Crew cannot go unnoticed and their contribution to the success of Unogwaja is immeasurable. Their love, commitment and service to every member of the team, and each other, is admirable and humbly portrays the spirit of Unogwaja.
These 23 people will join the Unogwaja family in taking this story forward and we invite you to join us!
To our sponsors who have become our friends we extend a big thank you! We cannot fulfil this dream without your valued support and we are extremely grateful.
Thank you to everyone for following, supporting and believing”.
Nicola Collins, CEO