George, Western Cape – Fiercely-contested first place finish, gutsy attempts to break record times, fervent defence of hard-won titles and passionate resolve to improve personal best results . . . all this and huge doses of gritty determination characterised the top athletes at the 11th OCC wheelchair race on Saturday,
In an oh-so-close finish, the hand cycle division in the men’s open paraplegic 42.2km marathon was won by Ernst van Dyk (Maties Helderberg Club), in a time of 1:09:33. Coming second, with the same officially-recorded time but a mere half-wheel diameter behind the winner was Andries Scheepers (Rustenburg Multi Club). And only one second behind the leaders was third-placed Stuart McCreadie from (Maties Helderberg Club), who came second in 2012.
This is the eleventh time that Van Dyk has entered the OCC race, and his second consecutive win in the handcycle division, with an average race speed of 36.4 kilometres per hour.
Speaking after the race, Van Dyk praised the event organisers and fellow competitors.
‘I only made it by a hair’s breadth into the winning position. This is a real honour, but I can see I will have to train even harder next year to stay ahead of the tough competition! Once again, the race was so well organised, and I am grateful to the George Municipality’s traffic department for ensuring our safety. I strongly encourage all wheelchair-bound people to consider entering this wonderful, camaraderie-filled event next year.’
In a winning time of 01:58:39, Hilary Lewis of South Africa once again won the Women’s Handcycle Paraplegic marathon, bettering her 2012 time by nearly three minutes.
The Racing Men’s Paraplegic marathon was won by Gerrit Hendricks in a time of 01:58:39, followed by Elford Moyo and Eugene Klassen.
Despite the fierce competition among the serious athletes, the majority of entrants came along just to have fun.
And fun they had. Even the weatherman in George played ball, presenting a warm day with clear blue skies – perfect for the OCC wheelchair competitors, each and every one of whom is a super-hero just for being at the start line.
Presented by sponsors ACSA George Airport, the 11th anniversary OCC race attracted more than 950 entrants, who descended on the normally quiet Southern Cape city of George. Competitors from six different countries participated in the 2013 Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge.
Prize money of R244 000 was split over 44 categories in three distances – a 42.2 km full marathon (with a R10 000 first prize), a 21.1 km half-marathon for athletes using racing wheelchairs or hand cycles, and a 10 km distance, which also allowed basketball chairs and ordinary wheelchairs.
The OCC wheelchair race is South Africa’s only international wheelchair road racing sporting event for persons with disabilities, and is recognised as an official Championship event by the SA Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD).
The 5km fun event, in which young and old were pushed in their wheelchairs by a helper, attracted entrants of all ages from all corners of the country. The youngest competitor was 18-month old Indiphile Mente of Plettenberg Bay. The oldest man was 93-year old Athol Brown and the oldest lady was 81-year old Anna Howarth, both from Fleur de Lis old age home in Franschhoek.
TV celebrity actor Heino Schmitt (who plays the character Altus in 7de Laan) had spectators clamouring for autographs as he pushed Jarobeam Meyer of Optima Special Day Care centre in George, in the 5km fun event.
More than 900 local volunteers lent a hand to ensure the event went without a hitch, serving as organisers, officials and chair pushers.
Event co-ordinator Ansie Swart was elated with the day. “There were no casualties, the weather was perfect and I am relieved that everything went smoothly. I salute the competitors for making a big effort to train and to travel all the way to George to participate and hope that we will again welcome the athletes and their supporters to our city for OCC 2014. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the sponsors, especially ACSA George Airport, all volunteers and friends of the OCC, the Councillors of George Municipality, officials and a special thanks to the committee members and their spouses who worked tirelessly to make this event a huge success. I would especially like to thank Esther Watson, who has been a key role player in the OCC for many years, for sharing her knowledge with me and who, despite recent health problems, attended the event and waved the starter’s flag for us.’
For race results, more photographs and further information please visit www.georgeocc.co.za or telephone event co-ordinator Ansie Swart on 079 397-4655.