The 2014 Unogwaja Challenge began on the 22 May when Elana Meyer, an Olympic Silver Medalist, set the Unogwaja 12 on their way. The 12 cyclists are crossing the country in a journey that was inspired by 1933 trip of Phil Masterton-Smith. Masterton-Smith, the youngest ever winner of the Comrades, could not afford the train fare from his home in the Western Cape in order to defend his 1931 down run. Instead he chose to follow his heart and cycle the epic distance before he ran the Comrades Marathon and finished in tenth. Phil’s nickname was Unogwaja, which is the Zulu word for hare.
In 2011 the story was introduced to John McInroy, founder of the ShoOops red socks movement and the Unogwaja Challenge, and a dream was born. Hastily put together, the first Unogwaja Challenge contained four participants who cycled from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg in ten days before running the Comrades Marathon. The underlying message was clear though, this was not a “Tick off your bucket list” challenge. This was a journey of the heart, where the team could inspire others to follow their hearts in this chasing any dream they have.
The 2014 Challenge, represented by 8 nationalities, has lived up to this legacy as a beautiful partnership with Hollard and the six Comrades Marathon Charities has allowed the team to do various activations in towns where they visit. In Robertson, the team took part in free testing for cancer being provided, in Willowmore there was time spent with children from the local shelter as well as care packages being given out. In Cradock the team spontaneously raised cash on the evening for the continuous running of the Vukasebenza shelter. Danielle Mascher, a website designer, also offered to design a website for the shelter, free of charge.
Throughout the journey the team has left hope with their emotive entry and heart felt energy. They have also left a trail of supplies. Wherever they have gone, they have been greeted with love. None more so than in the sleepy town of Aberdeen, where Tienie Appel and his family not only welcomed the Unogwaja team into their Caltex, they also prepared the team a heartfelt meal, before giving another donation to the charities.
The Challenge also had to face extremely difficult circumstances when, Florian Holstein, one of the Unogwaja 12, from Germany came off his bike in a serious accident. Florian was moved to a private medical facility in Port Elizabeth where he was treated for a broken clavicle as well as a laceration above his left eye. The sixth stage was suspended as the team took time to recover from the emotional hardship of seeing their friend fall and get injured. The German was in high spirits though and the team will cycle on, with support from around the globe, despite him being unable to join them on the journey. The members of the team each have taped the German flag to their bikes in a show of solidarity to their brother.
Having passed the halfway stage, the team’s journey will now continue through Maclear, Kokstad and Richmond before finishing the cycling leg of the journey in Pietermaritzburg. After spending the evening at the Tsogo Sun in Durban, the team will be accompanied by 50 runners in Pietermaritzburg to run the Comrades Marathon as the Red Love Train.
For more information on the challenge you can follow them on Twitter (@TheUnogwaja), Facebook (Unogwaja Challenge) or at http://unogwajachallenge.com