Unogwaja Challenge 2016: a dream come true
Being part of Unogwaja Challenge 2016 was a dream come true. We cycled 1,650km from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg in 10 days to take part in the Comrades Marathon on the 11th day. I’ve been trying to share with family and friends what I experienced in South Africa during this 11-day challenge, it’s been hard to find how to describe it though. At the airport on my way home, I got that weird feeling of emptiness. How could I come back to my previous life and routine?
I’m not the same anymore. This 11-day journey and all the special moments I lived before and after them with Unogwaja Team and Support Crew brought to my life more hope, reinforced my dreams, showed me that there are a lot of special human beings, put me in contact with amazing personal values as friendship, loyalty.
This 11-day journey and these great people brought out the best in me. I felt 100% comfortable to act naturally and I opened up to see, support and deal with all the others exactly the way they are. I’d say that I found my second home, my second family. I felt as if they had always been in my life since all time. We just hadn’t met before. At the airport, I spent a lot of time thinking if I deserved such wonderful experience.
Thiking about how to explain the connection we all built to one another, Unogwajas and Support Crew, I think I found a way. I believe that we could compare our connection to those which are established among people who share extreme situations (floods, earthquakes, wars). People who share these extreme moments will never forget each other; they will be connected forever.
Of course, we didn’t have anything comparable to these disasters. Those who have already experienced endurance sports know what happens to us. We face so many different sensations and feelings. For 10 days, we slept together, we had all the meals together, we cycled together, we shared chamois cream! For those who don’t cycle, it’s a special cream to be used “down there” in order to avoid rashes! We pErs on the roadside!
I know, I know… Peeing on the roadside is not nice! But there are not toilets available! Not along all the way from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg! It’s not so simple and easy for the guys, let alone for the girls. I have to admit that some of us were not that worried about it. =)
If you frown upon our peeing on the roadside, as I did on the first day, I promise you: after some time, when you face basic needs, you don’t pay too much attention to these moral aspects. After some days, sharing chamois cream while chatting was seco D-Vitaminas nature!
In addition to all these moments that we lived together, we shared 8-10 hours a day cycling | running. Believe me: during these hours we had all sorts of thoughts, feelings, emotions, moops. It’s always more intense when you are under endorphin’s effects. Extreme happiness, pain, wellness, moments that we wish they would last forever, moments that we feat like giving up.
We lived all these moments. We lived them together. When we go through all these on our own, we learn a lot from them. But sharing them with others bring much more to each second. We were learning from each other.
There something even more special about it. They are not only amazing people, they are the Unogwajas! I was on the road with them, people from different countries, different life background, but with so many shared personal values, like-minded people, connected to the same cause. Besides we are passionate about cycling and running. No doubt these deep similarities brought us together very fast.
Endurance sport show our strengths and weakness. It sheds some light on what we are deep inside. Sharing almost 80 hours on the road allowed us to know each other very well. After some days we already knew how we could help each other, how we should work as a team. We were focused on using the best of one another.
We watched the sunrise and sunset together. We suffered together with the hardest climbs. We laughed at each other. We were freely talking about our emotions, fears, achievements, worries, strengths, dreams.
The entire journey was supported by an incredible support crew. We just needed to focus on cycling. All the logistics were cared by them. And they were always smiling, singing, dancing. It couldn’t have been better. Every little detail was handled by them. They were managed by Stoff, the one who put all the responsibility upon his shoulders. To these outstanding people who enabled this journey: my eternal gratitude.
On the way from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg, one of the most remarkable moments was when we saw children running to their school. That freezing day made me spend some quiet moments complaining about how hard it was to deal with the pain in my feet and hands caused by the cold. And then I saw those children running on their shorts to school. Do I need to say that I burst into tears?
The 9th day was said to have the hardest climb. Some time after getting up that hill, I saw my mentor, the one who inspired me to be part of Unogwaja: Nato Amaral, Comrades Marathon Ambassador in Brazil. Not only me but all the others cried when saw him. He is very special to all of us. We celebrated a lot when all of us got there. The only thing that we didn’t know was that there would be some other climbs till the end of that day.
The end of 9th day was pretty special: that was the last long ride for us. We knew that if all of us got there, the cycling of Unogwaja Challenge would be easily accomplished on day 10! We could start to thank life and we knew that the time we would say “good bye” was getting close. It was a mix of good and bad feeling.
After completing the final leg of our cycle challenge, we led a procession to the Pietermaritzburg Town Hall with the kids of Umsilinga Primary School. Impossible to describe how I felt when I saw all those children on their Red Socks! We walked with them on Pietermaritzburg roads, singing and dancing.
To bring Unogwaja to a perfect end, we ran Comrades Marathon on day 11. Comrades Marathon is the most special ultra-marathon in the world! I ran my first Comrades in 2011 and I knew that I’d have lots of good moments and pain ahead. =) Although I expected it would be amazing, I couldn’t imagine it would be so intense and special. Comrades day deserves a specific race report.
A brief report: 89km, 20,000 people. Thousands of people on the streets from the start to the finish line. Hydration and food tents every 2-3km. Huge numbers of people at the stadium close to the finish line. Runners are always afraid of Comrades Countdown at the finish line and the cut off on the route.
All these magical moments would be more then enough to be unforgettable. But I was even more blessed by life: Dale and Brundle shared Comrades Marathon with me!
Brundle is the funniest person I have ever met. He is always smiling and making fun of everything. I’ll never forget those special moments beside you. Thanks for all the support and for being so kind. Thank youuuuuuuuuu.
And Dale… I can’t explain it but I’m sure he has always been part of my life. It was amazing to share this journey with you, my friend! You’ll be always close to me! You were a treasured gift.
Take a look at this picture close to the finish line. Do I need to say anything?
This journey of heart proved that beauty, lightness, good vibes, great hearts, team work, the spirit of humanity and compassion, caring, solidarity, determination and hope are spread out to the world. We need to be willing to get in touch with the others, to bring out the best on others.
I started this journal by with the saying that I can’t come back to my routine. I need to be even more grateful, help more people, spend more time with those who need help. The way of being thankful is helping people. My dream of bringing Unogwaja to Brasil will come true. This is my mission, my Unogwaja legacy.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one! I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one!” (Lennon)
Migsssssss, Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigs! It was sooooo hard to say good bye! Love you, my friend! <3. You still bring me into tears when I watch those videos! Miss you!
Amanda, you and your lovely family made me fell part of the family! I hope to see you soon! Hannah is now part of my daily Whatsapp messages! <3
Ian, thank you so much for all the laughs on the road and even more for the special moments after Unogwaja! Cape Town couldn’t have been better explored that days! Thanks!
Guin, <3 <3 <3! Sweet girl! Wish you all the best in your life! I’m waiting for you in Rio!
Andrea, strong woman! Wonder woman! Thanks for everything! You and Marc are welcome here in Rio! Please, come! SOON!
Greg, what a machine! You are sooooo strong! Thank you for all the support!
Pete, smiley boy! We will play hard in Rio! =)
Chris, I need to present Rio’s mountains to you! We’ll have fun in Rio after 70.3 Ironman! Get ready! =)
Wisey, thank you so much for saving my toes! =) You mother and father are so special! I hope you bring them in 2017! I’m just afraid of what can happen to you after eating “feijoada”. Nato can let you know “feijoada” side effects! Hahahaha…
Nat: you have to teach me Zulu! I’ll be back to South Africa soon! Let’s continue our Nietzsche discussion!
Support crew: thank you, thank you, thank youuuuuuu! Ros, Gary, Nicky, Nkoya, Stoff, Malotana, John, Jess, Em, Leo, Mi, Lize, Steven: much love to all of you! <3
Thanks to all those people who shared the Unogwaja Challenge 2016 with us.