Our Bulembu adventure race team recently took part in a 24-hour, 120km adventure race in Parys, South Africa.   For some of us this may beg the question of whether they were perhaps bored and decided to do something like that to pass the time.  But for this team, their passion for staying active and enjoying the outdoors met a great purpose when they realised their participation could raise funds for a brand new prosthetic leg for one of their sisters – Phephile Khumalo. 


After much planning, training and preparation, the team was on the road to Parys the day before the event.  We left Bulembu bright and early in ‘fresh’ temperatures.  It was Sicelimphilo’s first time leaving Eswatini, and seeing Rhinos and various other wildlife at the famous Alzu one stop, and a late lunch stop in Pretoria were some of the highlights of the roadtrip. En-route the team was also informed of the fantastic blessing that a donor was going to match every donation that was made, which was very exciting for everyone.

We were welcomed in Parys with warm hospitality from the event venue but significantly lower temperatures.  We arrived in the dark, so it was only the next morning that we realised that we were metres away from the Vaal River…explaining it all!  After taking bicycles at the drop-off point, warming up at a nice big bonfire, dinner and packing supply boxes, everyone turned in for the night – in a double layer of clothing, inside a sleeping bag, and covered with a duvet!

Early rising was at the order of the day for this weekend, and at 06h00 the team reported for registration.  Mandatory equipment was checked by officials, race bibs were handed out, team photos were taken, the map for the first leg of the race was collected and plotted on the master map, supply boxes were dropped off and final preparations were done.  The team then enjoyed breakfast, went over the map and their strategy for the first leg, and did the final checks before reporting at the starting line.

At around 08h20 all teams were at the starting line and there was a lot of excitement in the air.  The teams ranged from pros who did these races for a living, right up to families and ‘regular’ teams like ours.  Before we knew it, the countdown started, and at 08h30 sharp the race got underway!

The first leg of the race – a trek (hike) – went great and the team made it to the first transition in good time.  From there they tackled the second leg which was to kayak for 20km on the Vaal River – including navigating through a rapid!  After the kayaking on a cold river, the biggest challenge was staying dry and warm – despite beautiful sunny weather and clear skies.  Katja (Klaus’ wife) and myself met the team at the second transition, where they had to carry their kayaks to the equipment truck before having opportunity to have a snack and refill water bladders.  The team were going at a slower pace than they’d hoped, but their spirits remained high.  They then headed into the third leg of the race – a 16km trek, which basically started with a cross-river swim for a short loop-type hike before crossing the river again.  After their second river crossing, dusk was already settling in, but they continued strong.  Despite a short detour and getting covered in black-jacks from trekking through vegetation on the route, they completed trek to the third and final transition point just before 20h00, where Katja and I were able to welcome them again. They thoroughly enjoyed having a change of clothes, hot drink, quick meal, snack & water replenishment!  By then news had also reached us that the fundraiser goal was exceeded, and we were able to share it with the team.  They really loved hearing that, and it was a great way for them to start the final leg of the race – a 76km cycle on corrugated-iron-type dirt roads.

Katja and I returned to the main event venue, where we had some leftovers for dinner and went to sleep at for about 4 hours.  We set our alarms for 02h00 to check how the team were doing, on the race tracking webpage.  They were still about 3 hours away from finishing, so we went back to sleep.  However, at around 03h20 the team made the call to the organisers to be collected, about 20km from the finish, as they were simply too cold.  Klaus then called us as well, and we got ready to head to the main event area to welcome them back.  It was another hour or so before they actually arrived back at the venue.  When the team arrived back, they enjoyed a Boerewors roll, hot drink, more warmed up food, and an amazing bonfire.  It turns out that the outside temperature where they were collected was -3 degrees Celcius (26.6 Fahrenheit)!

Once the team had warmed up, had some sustenance and hot showers, they enjoyed a nice nap. All the racers were treated to a buffet breakfast that morning.  Our team were honoured at the prize giving for their inspirational spirit, and special mention was made of the reason they took part in the race and the fact that the goal was exceeded.  We headed back to Bulembu later that day with tired bodies but full hearts!

We’re so proud of our Bulembu adventurers.  The team and all of us in Bulembu would like to thank each and every person who donated, prayed, sent messages of encouragement, provided supplies and were in any way part of getting the team to and through the race.  Because of YOU the goal for Race With A Reason was not only reached, but EXCEEDED.  We are at a loss for words at everyone’s outpouring of support for Phephile and for our adventure racing team.  Now we look forward to keeping you updated of the progress as Phephile journeys toward a brand new prosthetic leg and whole new lease on life!

By Michelle le Roux