South Africa and more directly Stellenbosch, a small town in the Winelands near Cape Town, has been my second home since winter training commenced there in 1997. Over the years, I have built a fond history with this town, making great training, memories and friends along the way. South Africa is a beautiful country, but also has disparities, with many poor people who lack the opportunities we sometimes take for granted, living there.
I first witnessed this upon visiting a township near Stellenbosch called Kayamandi. I saw a house, better described as a shack, where 25 people sleep inside in compartments. Everybody must be in their compartment by 10:00 pm, because the kids must sleep on the floor & nobody can go in or out once in position. This definitely struck a chord with me and made me appreciate what I have, but also, what others did not have.
It all started in 2008 with The Cape Epic, one of the world's largest mountain bike stage races and my hopeful entry into the race itself. With the goal of entering the race and in essence finding a partner, also came the story of riding for a charity, the creation of our own charity and the movement around bringing cycling to The Kayamandi Township in Stellenbosch. In Burry Stander, I found the perfect partner. He was then a GT team rider and is now my teammate at Specialized.
Starting your own charity is a challenge and one that proved tougher than I ever imagined, but having seen the poor kids' living conditions in Kayamandi, a fire burned deep inside me to make it work! I am always a positive thinker, and this helped me again, by coincidence or not, to find the very best people to get ideas and support in order to start this charity. At a dinner on a wine farm, I met Songo Fipaza and heard of the need for sport in the Kayamandi township of Stellenbosch. Songo mentioned that a BMX facility would bring so much to the underprivileged kids. With the name Songo, also came the name for the charity.
It may sound easy, but there were big steps we had to go through. Luckily, with the JAG foundation, a reputable South African Charity we found a good partner, who was already established with running a program in Kayamandi. Their infrastructure and manpower was and still is a great benefit, coupled with former South African mountain bike Olympian Erica Green, who helped so much with the building of the BMX track. She guided the diggers around perfectly.
Within four months from Songo's conception to implementation, we raised enough money to build a BMX Track and associated program, plus we received 50 BMX Bikes from Specialized. Not bad!
One year later in 2009, with the support of Specialized, we donated 25 mountain bikes, plus employed Mr.Songo full time. The kids now have the opportunity to ride BMX bikes, and mountain bikes, plus they have been traveling to races and other fun events. Think back to the 25 people all sleeping together in a shack. For one of these kids who were sleeping on the floor, riding their nice new bike is like owning a Ferrari.
We are a super slim organization, where all the donated money goes straight into the charity. At the moment times are tough, but I hope you, the cycling community, can help us to continue to put smiles on these kids' faces. Every little donation is more then welcome. So little can really make a change. For full information on how to donate please take the time to visit www.songo.info.
We have also created a cool movie on the project, which gives a great appreciation for what has been already achieved, plus coverage of the Songo teams during the Cape-Epic. You cannot miss out on watching them at http://songo.info/videos
Two weeks ago, I enjoyed a free racing weekend, which meant I wasn't just hanging out by the lake. I had an awesome freeride trip from Italy to home. I got to know a few brand new corners of the beautiful Alps, plus put many riding hours into my legs. More about this trip next time!.
It has been a big training block for me over the past two weeks with the (Swiss National Series) Racers Cup in Einsiedeln on top of it. I was very happy with my second place, although my first couple of laps, I went as slow as a snail. I think my head was also "hurting" from racing after that big training block, but then my race toughness and spirit took over.
Now I am more then ready to take it easy for a week until Swiss Champs in Chur. This city is located on the foothills of big mountains, where we have a triple (cross country, downhill, four cross) championship, which hasn't happened for many years. I am really looking forward to it!
Thanks for reading!
[Editor's note: The Swiss Championships took place over the weekend of July 4-5. See Cyclingnews' coverage here.]